POSTED ON FEBRUARY 27, 2013:
Kathy Taylor talks jobs, not Vision2 vote
The word "legacy" may not be in Kathy Taylor's lexicon.
"I hear politicians talk about leaving a specific thing as a legacy. I didn't ever think about that. I just thought about what decisions do we make that are in the long-term interests of the city," Taylor said.
She answered in response to a question about any legacy from her first term as Tulsa's mayor, part of an interview about Taylor's approach to economic development.
The economy has improved since Taylor left office, but in the primary she will face Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who in 2009 campaigned heavily on a job creation pledge.
Since Dec. 2009, the Tulsa metro area has added about 16,600 jobs. Former city councilman Bill Christiansen, who runs an aviation business, is also running for mayor.
Taylor, a lawyer by training, has her own business bona fides. She came into the office in 2006 after serving as the state's director of commerce, tourism, and workforce development.
Taylor spurned a second term, deciding not to run for the office after earlier stating she would seek reelection. At the time, she explained that she wanted to focus on city needs rather than campaign during a time of economic distress.
Her current bid also involves a slight head fake. She told Urban Tulsa Weekly in 2011 that while she sometimes missed being mayor, "I've done that job and am glad I've done it and I would not do it again."
Taylor spoke about what led her to reconsider.
She spent spring of last year at Harvard University, part of a fellowship program on politics and public policy.
Taylor called it an "incredible opportunity" to teach and study public policy and "to hang out with people who had been governors and congressmen ... foundation heads and university presidents."
The experience left its mark.
"What I learned during that journey is that my passion is in making an impact in people's lives. There is no place where you see the impact that you make more directly by your leadership than as mayor," Taylor said.
Taylor has long been active in promoting entrepreneurship, in ways both small and large. She's serving as one of about 30 volunteer advisors to TCC's Launch program, and at a recent evening class session offered insight and encouragement to budding entrepreneurs.
Taylor was more circumspect when asked about the economic development goals embedded in the Vision2 tax proposal recently defeated by voters.
"I don't think my personal vote is what matters," Taylor said. "I think what matters is, in the future, taking the leadership to determine what we want our city to be," she said, referring to the citizen participation she described as a key part of PlaniTulsa, the city's comprehensive plan initiated while she was mayor.
"That's what I've heard from a lot of people in the city, is they didn't really understand [Vision2], they didn't feel like they were a part of it, not that they were against it so much, as they just didn't feel like they were a part of its design," Taylor said.
Taylor's developed her economic development insights in part during her first stint in state government, helping create the state's Economic Development Generating Excellence program, also known as EDGE. The idea was to help fund start-up companies.
But funding was pulled from the program last year, with money instead funneled to help pay the salaries of endowed positions in higher education.
"I think it did work ... but there were other needs," Taylor said.
She described efforts to establish the Tulsa Community College StartUp Cup as a similar effort to provide a boost to new businesses. The StartUp Cup has financial support from Taylor's family foundation, the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation.
"As a mayor, you have a voice to discuss with people, what's your vision for the city. We believed the small business entrepreneurial spirit was what we needed to create, and we sparked that," she said.
Taylor declined to lay out any position on airport industrial facility renovations in support of American Airlines, which is in the process of merging with US Airways. Mayor Dewey Bartlett advocated for the urgency of renovations as part of Vision2.
"I know there have been a lot of confidential meetings with US Airways and American Airlines, and I have none of that information," Taylor said. "I would never make a decision without the detailed information on how it would impact jobs in Tulsa."
Early in her term as mayor, Taylor worked with American Airlines to build a hangar. Voters ultimately approved $4.3 million for airport renovations as part of a renewal of what's known as the "third penny" sales tax to fund capital improvement projects.
"I immediately went to American Airlines and made sure, before the vote, we had an agreement on the number of jobs that would be retained, our ownership of the hangar if they went away," Taylor said.
As far as using public dollars for a local economic infrastructure fund as proposed in Vision2, Taylor declined to state a position, though she's familiar with the role of government in luring companies.
In her LinkedIn profile, she touts helping land a Dell facility to Oklahoma. Taylor noted in the interview that she led the state's Quality Jobs initiative, which offers incentives to companies for job creation.
But as far as the idea of a new fund, Taylor said she was "not familiar with the details of that," noting that the Vision2 ballot language did not specify exactly how the money would be used.
Taylor did cite the city's efforts with what's now the Tulsa Hills shopping area in southwest Tulsa as an example of helping spur economic development.
"What we did at Tulsa Hills is we did bond financing which we will be fully repaid on. But we structured it in a way that we could get the land infrastructure, the land ready for Tulsa Hills at the front end," Taylor said.
She included Tulsa Hills when describing her goals and accomplishments.
"I am certainly happy to see the long-term vision and investments that we made in this community, whether it is the innovation that allowed Tulsa Hills to begin or whether it is downtown revitalization, it has done what we hoped it would do, and that is, it has brought people into this city," Taylor said.
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