Voters in Tulsa's City Council District 6 won't have to reach back very far to recall a campaign that reminds them of the one that's unfolding before them this fall.
In 2006, incumbent Republican Jim Mautino ran for re-election against Democratic challenger Dennis Troyer. Troyer emerged victorious in that campaign as well as a bid in 2008. Now, he's running again, hoping to again defeat the man he unseated in 2006.
The two candidates won their primary races, with Troyer defeating Mario Choice 811-220 for the Democratic nomination and Mautino downing Tadd Weese 872-565 for the right to run as the GOP candidate. Now, they have turned their attention to each other, along with the district's problems, as they prepare for the Nov. 10 general election.
Troyer, 69, has a lengthy agenda for his possible third term, including promoting economic development, improving the district's streets, reducing its crime and promoting the establishment of more neighborhood associations.
Mautino is running because he hopes to put a stop to what he considers extravagant, inefficient spending by the city government and to bring accountability to a Public Works Department that he fears has squandered tens of millions of dollars.
Troyer said that even in a slow economy, the establishment of new neighborhood associations is a cost-effective measure that can have a tangible positive impact.
"People want their neighborhoods back," he said, adding that he has helped establish several such associations in the district recently with a handful of others in the works. The creation of neighborhood watch groups is a simple but effective deterrent to crime, Troyer said.
"You can cover three or four blocks just walking your dog," he said.
Just having a neighborhood association isn't enough--it's important to get residents to take an active role in their local group, he believes.
"And they're beginning to realize they can do this," Troyer said. "Nobody can just wiggle their nose and make your neighborhood perfect."
But effective, enthusiastic neighborhood associations have a significant role to play in quality-of-life issues in District 6, which covers much of eastern Tulsa, he said.
"It's pretty important," he said. "People get excited about it, and it's contagious. They see the graffiti gone, they see the tall grass gone, and they know it works."
Even so, Troyer said he realizes it's difficult for some residents to make a commitment of time and effort.
"We've got people working, taking their kids to school, and their kids are involved in sports, so it can be hard for an association to get a date set and get people to come," he said. "That's why I try to impress on these groups that they don't have to have a meeting every month. You can get more activity meeting every two months or every three months, as long as your board meets every month."
Troyer said he was caught a bit off guard by Choice's last-minute decision to run against him in the primary, but he was pleased with the results of the primary.
"I was not pleased with the voting turnout we had for the district," he said.
"It was the lowest in the city."
Troyer attributed that to the fact that state Sen. Tom Adelson, who won the Democratic nomination for mayor, did not face strong opposition in the primary, a factor that might have led many Democratic voters to stay home on Election Day. He's hoping for better participation by District 6 voters in November, but he fears that a sense of apathy has crept into the district.
"We have pretty good attendance at neighborhood association meetings, but we've not had a good turnout at our town hall meetings, certainly not as good as that in other districts," he said.
To combat that, Troyer said he has begun to employ other means of engaging the electorate that he never tried before, including Facebook and Twitter.
"I didn't even know how to set it up," he said, laughing, indicating that his son created his Web site and Facebook page for him. Troyer said he now communicates with many of his constituents through Facebook and e-mail. Those exchanges can be the most rewarding part of his job, he said.
"The best thing is talking to people," he said. "You'd be surprised how many people will stand there and look at you and say, 'You're a city councilor?' I'm not big at talking on the telephone; I'd rather talk face to face."
But communication can be fairly difficult to maintain in a district that features 11 ethnic groups, according to Troyer, including Latinos, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Poles. He said he often hears from constituents who complain that members of some of those groups don't make enough of an effort to adapt to the prevailing culture.
Troyer argues that many of them have, including the vibrant local Hmong community--members of an ethnic group whose members hail from the mountainous region of Southeast Asia, including such countries as Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma. He said Hmong representatives have invited him to several of their community functions, making it clear to him they wish to participate as much as possible in municipal government decisions.
"We've made a lot of inroads with different cultures out here," he said.
Troyer said he has lived in the area since 1981 and has witnessed a number of changes over that time, including the district's dramatically increased ethnic diversity.
But one thing has remained the same, he said.
"A lot of people don't like to hear this, but it's still a blue-collar district," he said.
Troyer, who retired a few years ago from Tulsa's American Airlines maintenance facility, said his background has helped him find common ground with many of his constituents.
"I guess that's why I can relate to them," he said.
Troyer said he plans to make a push for a new grocery store in east Tulsa should he be re-elected, as well as help attract new retail outlets so residents of District 6 don't have to drive south to E. 71st Street, north to Owasso and northeast to Catoosa to do their shopping.
He said he heard many residents express the feeling during the PLANiTULSA process that the district is devoid of such opportunities.
"People are saying, 'We want our own identity, like Brookside or Peoria,' " he said. "We don't have that right now."
Troyer also intends to support the creation of a light-rail system, something that he believes will give District 6 residents a better opportunity to take advantage of everything Tulsa has to offer, including new attractions downtown and along the Arkansas River.
"People would love that, and I think we could get good support for it," he said.
However, Troyer cautioned that residents shouldn't expect too much too soon from such a system.
"People get carried away and think they'll have light rail to carry them anywhere they want to go," he said, explaining that a park-and-ride system is a more realistic possibility for residents of east Tulsa until the system reaches a certain level of maturity.
"That's the way you do it," he said. "You build the hub and then put the spokes in it."
Troyer's opponent, Mautino, has his doubts about light rail, arguing it would cost $4 million a mile to construct. He said a monorail system proposed several years ago by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe would have been much more economical and would have benefited District 6 much more.
Mautino expresses considerable frustration about the status of economic development in the district, complaining that it has stagnated in recent years. He complained that a lack of infrastructure improvements in the district has led businesses and residents to flee for Owasso and Broken Arrow.
Mautino, 77, said he did not intend to re-enter the political arena after his loss to Troyer in 2006, but the developments he has witnessed in city government over the last three years led him to change his mind. He was particularly vexed by increases in his utility and ad valorem tax rates, hikes that he believes haven't led to better infrastructure and services.
He takes issue with city government's move from the old City Hall to the new building at One Technology Place, decrying its "extravagant" cost at a time when the city budget is stretched thin.
Most of all, he's upset about the state of the district's roads, particularly a three-mile stretch of 145th East Avenue between E. 11th Street and E. 41st Street that he believes is dangerous. He said repairs should have been completed years ago, but much of the work has not been done. He also believes much of the money collected for the work through a general obligation bond issue has not been accounted for.
"If you're not on the council to sit there and ask questions, it just sits there and gets forgotten about," he said.
Mautino believes the city has made a big mistake by reducing its number of road crews and relying on private contractors to do the work instead.
"Outsourcing gets real expensive," he said. "I know some contractors who are making big dollars."
Mautino said he's been down this proverbial road before. During his previous term on the council, he found himself allied with Councilor Chris Medlock in questioning a number of city expenditures, and both wound up having to fend off an unsuccessful recall effort after having been portrayed as anti-development. Ultimately, both he and Medlock were defeated in their re-election bid.
But that won't stop him from raising many of the same issues in this campaign, Mautino said. He's alarmed by a scandal at the Public Works Department that has exposed a bribery and fraud ring involving millions of dollars in construction and consulting contracts. He believes the time for a full accounting is at hand.
"Something's wrong, and we've got to do an audit," he said. "That's why I'm running and why I've started questioning what's going on. That's what got me and Chris Medlock in trouble. Why are we paying for all these sewer lines? Why are we paying for all these water lines?"
Mautino bristles at the claim that he is anti-development, pointing to his efforts during his council term to secure new sewer lines for a series of businesses located across Pine Street that allowed those firms to thrive, in some cases even doubling their previous size. He doesn't understand why more of that hasn't been done over the years in his district.
"That comes from frustration," he said. "I came here in 1956, and I love this city. It disturbs me, really disturbs me, to see people take advantage of this city and its residents."
Unimpressed by a review of the Public Works Department that is being conducted by a St. Paul, Minn., firm at the behest of Mayor Kathy Taylor, Mautino is calling for a quality assurance audit of the department. He, like Troyer, was an American Airlines employee for several years before retiring and was able to compare an experience that happened there to the city's current situation.
At the time, he said, the airline had numerous maintenance problems, and Mautino was part of a team that visited the airline's facilities on the East Coast to study the problem and make recommendations.
"When we got that straightened out, American flights started leaving on time, and we had less maintenance in the field," he said. "We've got to do that with Public Works. We don't have to guess about the fact that Public Works is not operating efficiently. We already know they're not."
He also believes that too many decisions in Tulsa are made for the benefit of a few individuals or companies, rather than for the good of the community as a whole. For instance, he frequently finds himself at odds with the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
"I'm not saying the people in the chamber are bad people, but they have their self interests at heart," he said. "They are a businessmen's union."
Mautino emphasized that he has nothing against unions, having belonged to one at American Airlines for so many years.
"You can have good unions and bad unions," he said. "And I can tell you that not all of the business people who belong to the chamber are happy."
To back up his views, Mautino points to his claim that Tulsa's suburbs keep growing while Tulsa struggles to maintain the population it has.
"Overall, the city's hurting," he said. "We're losing 2 percent of our people every year. They're voting with their feet. They want better schools and better streets. Why aren't we doing better?"
Mautino gives Troyer credit for being a good listener, but he said there's more to representing the district than that.
"You can't get what your district needs by just listening," he said. "You've got to get in there and fight and scratch. I'm pretty competitive, and I'm not bashful. I'm just leaving it to the people of District 6. If they want somebody to fight for them and get what the district needs, I'm willing to do it."
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