Even with three candidates in the offing, voters in Tulsa's District 3 won't have the chance to vote for a preferred City Council member until the Nov. 10 general election.
That's because none of the three belong to the same political party. Incumbent David Patrick is an independent, while Roscoe Turner is a Democrat and Karl Hulcher is a Republican. None of the three will face an opponent in the Sept. 8 primary.
But that hasn't stopped the three candidates from staking out their positions. And despite their differences, they seem to have found common ground on the issue of code enforcement, which they agree is a major issue in a district that for a long period of time has been one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Tulsa.
"That's always been a problem," said Patrick, a small businessman who has held the seat on and off since 1996. "There is so much need out here but only a limited amount of resources. I think sometimes it's such a massive problem it overwhelms the code enforcement workers, and I've got to stay on top of them to get things done."
Hulcher goes so far as to call the proliferation of code enforcement violations the source of all the district's other shortcomings.
"You've got people trying to sell their houses, and next to them is a boarded-up house with waist-high grass or a car on the lawn on blocks with grass growing up underneath it," he said. "I've seen cars untagged, or with expired tags, and they're sitting on blocks parked in the street. I've got pictures of cars sitting on the street up on blocks and one sitting on the sidewalk with no wheels and tires."
Such an atmosphere fosters petty crime and discourages economic development, he said, adding that aggressive code enforcement and a stepped-up police presence are the answers to what plagues the area.
"That basic stuff right there would start District 3 on a recovery," he said.
Turner--a retired city worker who held the seat from 1998 to 2002 and 2004 to 2008--said the district's code enforcement shortcomings is part of a larger problem of misplaced priorities by mayoral administrations in the past.
"We've had administrations putting money in places they shouldn't, and they've left code enforcement out," he said. "We've still got apartment buildings deteriorating down to nothing, and we don't have the money for code enforcement to go out there and tell people what they're supposed to do to fix it."
Hulcher holds both Patrick and Turner accountable for the lack of adequate code enforcement, claiming neither made a dent in the problem during his term in office. He also claims neither would return phone calls from him when he called them to complain about code violations.
"My tagline is, 'we're all tired of the David and Roscoe show'," he said. "They've swapped off for the last 13 years. I don't know how anybody could say with a straight face that District 3 has improved over the last 13 years."
Patrick claimed he has never heard from Hulcher since serving on the council, adding, "I respond to everyone who contacts me by phone or e-mail," and he said his Republican opponent isn't the only one distressed by the district's problems with code violations.
"I understand his frustration because I get frustrated, too," he said.
"But you have to stay on them to get anything done. If we had more money, we could get more done."
Patrick said the creation of the city's Working in Neighborhoods Department--which promotes community education, and develops and sustains public-private partnerships to enhance public safety--has been effective at attracting grant money and volunteers to help tackle the problem.
But he said the city's tight budget has made it very difficult to properly fund all the areas for which Tulsa, and District 3 in particular, have needs, including police and fire protection, as well as parks.
"As the economy turns around, it will be important to take care of those quality-of-life issues that affect neighborhoods," he said.
Turner said District 3's code violation problems stem from its high percentage of absentee landlords, making it difficult for code enforcement officers to cite land owners when violations occur. He said he still receives calls from district residents complaining about the problem.
"Here I am, not even in office, trying to help these people get things straightened out," he said.
Turner said during his time in office, he proposed a number of projects--including the designation of a so-called retail corridor along Pine Street between Peoria Avenue and Lewis Avenue--that he believes would have helped pull the district out of its downward spiral. But when he left office, those proposals lost momentum and fell by the wayside, he said.
That's why he's running for the seat again.
"My theory is, if you just want to get rid of me, just give me what I ask for, and I'll go away," he said.
Until that happens, he said, he plans on continuing to advocate for the district.
"My people are just being neglected," he said.
Hulcher's decision to seek the seat was a product of his dissatisfaction with the leadership shown by Patrick and Turner, as well as his inability to recruit a suitable candidate to run against them, he said. Hulcher believes he's the man to set things straight in District 3, despite the fact he's never run for office before and was arrested several times during a six-year period earlier this decade for incidents involving arson, driving under the influence and assault and battery.
These days, Hulcher said he works at the University of Tulsa and attends classes there and at Tulsa Community College, where he hopes to earn a degree in elementary education, marketing, business or accounting.
He recognizes that the city's funding shortfalls have made it difficult to meet the needs of various departments, but he said he's tired of hearing excuses when it comes to solving problems.
"All you've got to do is break it down to, what's your goal?" he said. "Just do it. Don't make excuses. I guess that's one of the biggest complaints I've observed of Roscoe. It seemed like he was always complaining.
"Well, stop complaining and start doing," he said. "Why is it everyone thinks they've got to have a grant for something to start happening? It doesn't."
Patrick rejects the idea that he hasn't accomplished anything on behalf of the district in his time on the council, pointing to his work to get its sewer problems addressed starting in 1996.
"My first term, we got some massive upgrades accomplished, and we got the problem solved," he said, adding that in recent years, his work to help secure passage of the Fix Our Streets package will mean improvements for roads throughout the district, including an upgrade for what he calls the most dangerous intersection in the city at Pine Street and Yale Avenue.
He said many parts of the district were among the first to be developed in (suburban) Tulsa, and its aging nature make it different from many other parts of the city.
"It encompasses a lot of older neighborhoods, and we've got a lot of industrial areas," he said. "So you have pockets of employment backed right up to residential neighborhoods. That poses some special problems."
On the other hand, he said, "We've still got a lot of (undeveloped) land, so growth could be expanded out that way. A lot of new business for employment could take place there."
Referring once more to the district's numerous code violations, Hulcher believes the area is unable to attract economic development opportunities largely because of its appearance. He decried the district's lack of grocery stores in particular.
"We've got to make it attractive for new business to move in," he said. "When you look at District 3 today, who wants to move in to that?"
After first addressing those code enforcement issues, Hulcher believes, quality of life, public safety and economic development will follow.
"District 3 could be the jewel of Tulsa," he said. "It could be the economic hub of Tulsa, but we've got to take care of the basics first."
Turner cites the lack of opportunity as the district's biggest concern.
"We're not creating jobs in this area anymore," he said. "Everybody fails to realize we need jobs."
Those employment opportunities are the foundation of meaningful economic development, he said.
"Everybody fails to realize what economic development really is," he said. "To establish economic development, you have to live in an area, work and spend your money an area. As it is now, we have to live here, then go someplace else to work and go somewhere else to shop. The money's leaving out of here as fast as it comes in."
Turner also said he has seen a growing chasm between citizens and the government that is supposed to represent them in recent years.
"One thing that's got to happen is we've got to open up City Hall to the people again," he said. "This going around behind closed doors and creating deals and then making a vote on it is no good anymore. Nobody trusts City Hall anymore. We've got to get the confidence of the people again."
Patrick is encouraged by what a proposed light-rail system might mean for the future of his district in terms of attracting both retail and industrial opportunities. He also said his cooperation with Mayor Kathy Taylor's administration and leaders of various city departments have made it possible for him to get things done on behalf of his constituents.
"If I don't keep a good relationship with the administration or the department heads, I'm not going to get too much accomplished," he said.
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