Not every mayoral campaign in Tulsa attracts a swarm of candidates. It only seems like it.
For the third time in recent memory, the list of those who have filed to run for the city's chief executive position is so lengthy it might be mistaken for the line of people waiting to get a driver's license at the Department of Public Safety--the slow-moving line.
A total of 19 candidates--five Democrats, 11 Republicans and three independents--officially filed paperwork last week signaling their intention to seek the mayor's office, a logjam that was created in large part by incumbent Mayor Kathy Taylor's late-inning decision to cancel her re-election bid and leave office after a single term.
But to hear local political blogger Michael Bates (www.batesline.com) tell it, that situation is far from unique in Tulsa.
"Well, I've lived through a couple of elections that had more than that," he said, citing campaigns in 1986 and 1992 that drew approximately 50 candidates each.
The size of the field alone is likely to have a strong influence on how the campaign plays out, Bates said. Among other concerns, Bates worries about the logistics of staging a simple candidates forum, especially among the 11 Republicans.
"For a lot of the candidates who devote time and resources to running, they often find their message gets smothered up in noise," he said.
As an example, Bates cited his experience at a GOP mayoral forum that took place on July 17 that was attended by only five candidates--a fraction of those who actually filed. And three of those who attended came in late. Even so, Bates said, each candidate had time to make only a general statement and answer three questions.
"It made it impossible to get to issues of any depth and draw contrasts between candidates," he said.
As the campaign continues to unfold, Bates fears that problem will only get worse.
Another factor will be the lack of a runoff election, meaning the Sept. 8 primary will be a winner-take-all situation. Come Sept. 9, the slate of Republican candidates will have been winnowed from 11 to one, while only a single Democrat will remain among the five who have filed.
Bates believes that, particularly on the Republican side, the outcome could be the result of two like-minded candidates with similar constituencies splitting the vote, allowing another candidate with less overall appeal to emerge victorious.
"Without a runoff, you have to be concerned that there are different candidates who might influence the vote that otherwise could have gone to you," he said.
Bates prefers a campaign in which a winner emerges because he or she is the preference of the majority, rather than one in which the outcome is decided by the tactical issues of who gets into the race.
He thinks the lack of a runoff could work to the advantage of candidate Dewey Bartlett Jr., a former city councilor and son of a one-time Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator. Bates believes Bartlett's name recognition alone could be enough to separate him from the pack in such a crowded field. He cited the case of another candidate named Bartlett--no relation to Dewey Bartlett Jr.--who ran for the City Council's District 4 seat several years ago and won his primary.
"So it's a powerful name," Bates said. "The less a candidate for mayor can draw a clear contrast with Bartlett, the better it is for Bartlett."
Bates doesn't expect much of a contest on the Democratic side, where state Sen. Tom Adelson faces four perennial candidates.
"There's not much of a race there," he said.
Bates also expects that to work to Adelson's advantage in the long run, as the winner of the Republican primary likely will have emerged from a bruising and perhaps expensive campaign simply to advance to the general election.
None of that seems to deter Anna Falling, a Republican who surprised many observers by filing to run for mayor last week. The former city councilor describes herself as "a facilitator of the coalition of the willing" and intends to mix things up if elected.
"The last few administrations have not invited doers, they have invited talkers," she said. "And I want to be about the doing."
Falling--who co-founded the Cornerstone Assistance Network, a faith-based organization that seeks to transform lives from poverty to purpose, with her husband in 1996 and serves as the organization's executive director--touts the work her coalition of 370 churches could do on the city's behalf if given the chance to work on such issues as after-school, tutoring, parks and neighborhood-improvement programs.
"But they have not been able to do that" because they haven't been made to feel welcome by the city, she said.
Falling said she already was considering mounting a campaign for the mayor's office even before Taylor announced she would not seek re-election. Nor was she deterred by the lengthy list of candidates who declared their intention to run before her, even if some of them are much better-funded than she is.
"I don't think money should buy an office," she said. "And I wasn't going to be intimidated by that."
Nor does she intend to let others set the agenda.
"My message will not change," she said. "I will be on message and on task for the duration."
Falling's message is simple, she said. She hopes to gather and unify churches throughout the community and put them to work on the city's behalf.
"I believe that the church is the largest untapped resource that can handle the root issues of this city," she said. "And that is my No. 1 thing. That will carry us into changing the way our budget's looked at; we'll have more money to spend on the things we need to as a government--our streets and safety. But those things will continue to skyrocket without dealing with those root issues."
Falling doesn't think much of the priorities established by recent mayoral administrations, particularly the focus on downtown Tulsa.
"We have what we say in our world--in the community I work with--is we call what they've done downtown 'Broken lives lead to broken laws lead to broken budgets and broken solutions,' " she said. "And that's lotteries, casinos, higher taxes--it's Band-Aids. Those are Band-Aid solutions."
Falling served on the City Council from 1998 to 2000 and counted her term as a success, citing the adoption of a recycling program and the city's work on getting utility rates under control.
"I really enjoyed the process of public debate and problem solving and working together with diverse people and trying to come to a solution," she said. "When I make my mind up to something, it's hard to change it. So I really like to make my mind up before I speak."
Many local political observers, Bates included, believe Falling may have trouble separating herself during the primary from fellow candidate Chris Medlock, another fiscal and social conservative, leading to concerns they may split that vote and allow another candidate to claim the top spot. Falling does not fear such a scenario.
"Conventional wisdom would say that," she said, laughing. "I think the important part about myself is that none of the candidates are addressing the root issues of this city. I think all of the Republicans are pulling the same way -- they're all fiscal conservatives, they all want to do the right thing with your money.
"But that's not going to change how much money we have to spend if we don't deal with it on the front end. And that will differentiate me. Right now, the Department of Corrections budget will exceed the education budget in the next couple of years, and to me, I would rather see more money spent on our education than our present system. But we're going to have to start making those choices. No amount of police on the streets is going to change anybody's bent."
Falling makes frequent reference to the use of her faith network as part of her solution for the problems that face Tulsa, a strategy that distinguishes her from those who are hesitant to include religion in discussions of public policy.
"I don't apologize for it," she said. "I think we apologize for it too often, and we shouldn't. Our founding fathers required divine intervention to finalize our Constitution. Ben Franklin even called for it. And if we think we're too big for britches today to need that, then we need to step back and take a look at our cities. We do need divine intervention."
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