As the race to succeed Kathy Taylor as the mayor of Tulsa unfolds during the next few months, it's not likely anyone will confuse candidate Chris Medlock for a shrinking violet.
"I never have been," said the former city councilor and talk radio show host. "I don't know how to be that."
While the other high-profile candidates to announce for the office so far have chose to emphasize such themes as building consensus and putting an end to partisan bickering, Medlock has made clear his intention to run a different kind of campaign as he seeks the Republican nomination--one in which he plans to be plainspoken, even confrontational, if need be.
Medlock's message is largely populist in tone. He distances himself from other candidates--notably, Republican Dewey Bartlett Jr. and Democrat Tom Adelson--by referring to them in veiled terms as the progeny of a famous political family and a midtown millionaire. He argues that Tulsa has been governed by the same small group of people for most of his life, with power concentrated among a handful of families and business people.
"There are two parties in this town, but they're not Republican and Democrat," he said. "You really do have sort of the grassroots and the grasstops in this town. There is a lot of desire for the type of change that would put regular folks more in control of their government. They don't have a heck of a lot of time--they're out there running their businesses and taking care of their families and such, but they're ready."
Medlock, who served on the council from 2003 to 2006, said the result of that stale leadership is that Tulsa has lost much of its luster since 1984, with efforts having been concentrated on finding a "Hail Mary" pass to save it. An avowed conservative, he is particularly distrustful of government projects that are sold to the public as a means of turning the city around.
He recalled his first year on the council, when Tulsa was facing what many people were calling the worst budget crisis in its history. That was the same year the Vision 2025 package of civic improvements was sent to voters, earning their approval for a 13-year, one-penny sales tax hike to fund the projects.
But Medlock said he sees very little proof that V2025 has benefited the community.
"So you start thinking, what happened?" he asked. "We cut the budget back, we thought we were rebounding, and--boom--here we hit 2009, it's six years removed, when you think you're going to start seeing that impact occurring, and we're no better off. We're worse off. We're now furloughing city workers eight days instead of four, and we're including the police this time. So what's going on?"
Medlock takes particular aim at the money that has been pumped into revitalizing downtown Tulsa, which he believes has come at the expense of the rest of the city. While tax dollars are being spent on projects in the Brady district, he said, merchants in such areas as Cherry Street and Brookside are going at it alone.
"I want to get government out of that," he said. "We've made that investment in downtown, into the infrastructure ... it's time for the private sector to take over.
OK guys, your basic foundation is down there. Your streets are fixed, you got the arena, you got a ballpark. What more could you possibly need?"
Medlock's decision to seek the mayor's office came only after he was unable to persuade another conservative to campaign for the job, he said. He already had a job he loved, serving as a talk show host on KFAQ-AM, where he was able to indulge in being the dart instead of the dart board, he said.
But when the economic downturn forced the station to cut its staff, Medlock--who did not have a contract--soon found himself unemployed. Even though he and his wife had started their own small business, Medlock found himself giving more and more thought to re-entering politics, especially in June after Taylor announced she was aborting her re-election campaign.
"I had to look at, 'Do I care enough about this city to leave people with two candidates basically running against each other who are carbon copies of each other but from different parties?' And the answer was no," he said. "People want a choice out there, and I'm offering a new direction. It's going to be a clear-cut difference in this primary, and it'll be a pretty clear-cut difference in the general, should I make it."
Medlock's first order of business as mayor would be to seek a charter change doing away with Tulsa's strong-mayor form of government. He seeks to adopt a different model in which the city's full-time administrative authority is invested in a city manager, leaving the mayor with much less influence.
"What we're talking about is changing the form of government," he said. "I was trying to talk about it three years ago, three and a half years ago, whenever it was (when he ran for mayor the first time, losing in the primary to incumbent Bill LaFortune). I think the public's more ready for it. We keep seeing Oklahoma City pass us by, and the major problem we've got is too much power resides in that one person. And if certain groups can get their person elected, they have virtually unrestrained power to do what they want to."
Medlock also aims to increase openness and transparency in municipal government, put more police officers on the streets and spend more time encouraging and helping the businesses that already exist in Tulsa, rather than persisting in the belief that "we can bag the big elephant" like Boeing, he said.
"Sticking here locally and working with your coffee shop owners and your florists and your Hallmark shop owners on how to expand their businesses is not sexy, but it's more cost effective," he said.
The primary question in this campaign, as Medlock sees it, is, "Can somebody who's not from midtown, not from one of the families, not the progeny of a past political hero, can they win this race?"
Medlock believes he can.
"I wouldn't be doing it" if he didn't, he said, adding that it took some serious lobbying to convince his wife.
Medlock said he likely will be outspent 10 or 20 to one by his opposition in the race, but he plans on concentrating on new forms of technology, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, to get his message out and recruit supporters. He'll also rely on the things he learned from his unsuccessful attempt to unseat LaFortune four years ago.
"Number one, don't run against the incumbent from your own party," he said drily, recounting the most important lesson he took from that experience. "You learn more from campaigns you lose than you do from campaigns you win. That's certainly the case. If you're talking politically, we're going to do it a whole lot differently in using technology a lot more. You find out what are inefficiencies and what are efficiencies. You know, what gets you votes and what doesn't."
It didn't take long for Medlock's campaign to yield its first positive results. On July 10, two days after Medlock's announcement, Tulsa businessman Clay Clark--who had announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination several months ago and who has criticized Bartlett for his recent statements supporting some of Taylor's programs--said he had decided to end his campaign and support Medlock.
"In my attempt to truly put priorities over politics, I feel as though joining the Chris Medlock campaign will provide Tulsa with the best chance to secure conservative leadership in the mayor's office," Clark stated in a press release. "After talking with our supporters and directly to Chris, it has become apparent that Chris and I agree on nearly all the major issues facing Tulsa. I believe that running against Chris would split the truly conservative vote, which would lead to the Mayor Taylor supporting candidate being elected, and that would be like voting for Kathy Taylor Part 2."
Clark said he would be joining the Medlock campaign full time, where he will oversee its Internet marketing and small business development aspects.
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