POSTED ON AUGUST 17, 2011:
A Voter Information Series
This election season, 36 candidates are vying for nine seats on City Council. Candidates will duke it out in the primaries on Sept. 13, when the districts with only Republican or Democratic candidates will be decided.
Those who win the primaries will face off on Election Day, Nov. 8.
So what's in each district? What are their unique strengths and weaknesses? Who'll be battling it out in the primaries, and what do they stand for? We intend to tell you as we dig into a district or two each week in our continuing series, Council Connection. Up this week is District 4.
Lay of the Land
District 4 is a petite rectangle in the heart of the city. The little district that holds everything from Tulsa's compact downtown to midtown neighborhoods like Owen Park and Tracy Park.
These older neighborhoods are the most likely candidates for PlaniTulsa renovations, offering great opportunities for reinvigoration, infill and mixed-use areas.
The Pearl District, which includes 100-year-old homes largely between 6th and 11th Streets at the edge of downtown, is undergoing major change with the construction of a new canal and retail shops.
The Blue Dome District has become a popular hot spot in the last several years, with funky eateries like Yokozuna, Joe Momma's, Dust Bowl Lanes and Dilly Deli, interspersed with bars like The Max Retropub and popular local arts shop, Dwelling Spaces.
Redistricting has changed some of the boundaries between Districts 4 and 9, so check the City Council website to double-check your address if you're unsure.
This district has a wide and varied field of candidates. Incumbent Councilor Maria Barnes, 50, will face off against political newcomer, Ken Brune, 66. Three Republicans will battle it out in the primary: Liz Hunt, 40, Rocky Frisco, 74, and Blake Ewing, 32.
First off, some full disclosure. Your humble news reporter lives in District 4. Also, Councilor Barnes was voted by UTW readers as 2011's Absolute Best City Councilor. And with that aside, let us give a fair look at our field of candidates.
Barnes has lived in District 4 for the past 27 years. She was born in Tulsa, but spent some years living out of the country while her father was stationed overseas, according to campaign website.
She has three college-aged children with her husband James Barnes.
"I will work hard to implement our new comprehensive plan PlaniTulsa," Barnes wrote on her campaign website, mariabarnes4tulsa.com. "I will continue to represent the neighborhoods and small businesses first when there is a zoning issue."
As councilor, Barnes said she secured pedestrian-friendly street crossings for Cherry Street, and assisted the Pearl District with a form-based code pilot program.
"You know me, and I know you," she wrote on her campaign site. "I am one of you and will continue standing up for you."
Barnes is an active board member of Crosstown Learning Center, Tulsa EduCare and INCOG. She serves on the Tulsa Human Rights Commissions, the Downtown Coordinating Council and the Mayor's Police and Community Coalition.
Barnes will face off against democrat Ken Brune. He was born and raised in Iowa, then earned a law degree from the University of Tulsa in 1974. His law career has spanned more than three decades. He founded Brune Law Firm in 1994, according to his campaign website.
During the Vietnam War, Brune served in the Army as headquarters battery executive officer, and was awarded a Bronze Star and Citation for Meritorious Service.
He was married, and raised two daughters and a son in Tulsa. His wife died in Sept. 1999. He's lived in the district for 30 years.
Brune said if elected he'd like to "restore civility and careful analysis on issues to the council."
The most pressing priority for District 4, he said, is fixing the streets. Additionally, Brune said, "We need more retail and business activity within the district. And we need to continue and accelerate the development of downtown."
He said he's uniquely qualified to represent the district because "I own property downtown, I live downtown, and I run a professional office downtown."
Brune has also worked as an assistant district attorney in Tulsa County, has been a district court judge, and has represented the county assessor, treasurer and other county officials, he said. "I've got a good deal of background experience in city and county government," Brune said.
He is currently a trustee of the Oklahoma State University Medical Center and a chairman of the St. Francis of Assisi Trust. Check out his site for more info at Brune4council.com.
Republican Liz Hunt is also a newcomer to politics but has been very involved with the revitalization of Tracy Park through its neighborhood association.
As president of the park's association, Hunt was able to help secure Vision 2025 resources for the historic neighborhood to help fight failing infrastructure, prostitution and drug use in the park.
Through a public-private partnership, she and the association developed a comprehensive plan for Tracy Park that was adopted by the city.
On a recent morning at Joebot's, Hunt was chipper in a gray tee emblazoned with a hot pink Tulsa Driller tucked into a pencil skirt. She moved to Tulsa (and specifically District 4) 12 years ago from Kansas City for a communications job with the Williams Cos.
In 2001, she and many other young professionals lost their jobs after a downturn in the economy. "I watched more than 20,000 high paying jobs held mostly by young professionals leave the city. My job included," Hunt said.
But she didn't return to Kansas City. "I fell in love with Tulsa," she said. She now owns Hunt PR, a small public relations firm.
"We love that we can walk down to the farmer's market. We can walk Max, our five-year-old son, down to the ballpark," she said. "I love the diversity, from the architecture and the people, and I'm really excited to see what Jamie Jamieson is doing with the Pearl [District]."
Hunt said that she and other Tracy Park neighbors hope to "piggy back" on changes going on just a few blocks away in the Pearl District, such as extending LED lighting throughout the area.
As Hunt talked, she waved to acquaintances and fixed a wobbly table with a folded stack of campaign flyers.
"I believe positive energy begets positive energy," she said.
Her mother died just as she was graduating from college. She said one of the legacies she left for her brother and herself was serving community above oneself. "I want to demonstrate to my son that you must be the change you wish to see," she said.
Max, she said, is her heart. She flipped through her hot pink iPhone to find a few digital photos of the little boy with bright-red hair and a cute smile wearing goggles at the dinner table. "I've got a teepee in the living room and a drum kit in the dining room," she laughed, talking about the bungalow she shares with her husband and son.
She recently turned 40, and shares a birthday with fellow candidate Maria Barnes, who turned 50 on the same day. Happy belated birthday to both candidates!
Republican Blake Ewing has made a name for himself by making a mean pizza pie in the Blue Dome District. He originally opened Joe Momma's pizza on the south side of town, but after its success he opened a second restaurant at 112 S. Elgin Ave.
Since then this successful entrepreneur has opened more hip, fun businesses in the area including The Max Retropub, Boomtown Tees and Back Alley Blues & BBQ. Ewing also started up a film production company and a public relations firm, The Engine Room, which handles media relations for his businesses.
Ewing recently announced plans to open a downtown grocery store, Archer Market.
His Blake for Tulsa campaign includes five prongs: Provide basic amenities; promote and improve Tulsa's unique assets; attract and retain creative people; support creative development; and create a vibrant urban core.
When asked about his favorite thing about District 4, Ewing said, "I've got a good district, it's hard to pick just one thing."
He said the biggest struggle for the district is "making progress in terms of our increasing commercial presence," though Ewing doesn't think it's "one we can't overcome."
On Aug. 26, 2010, a state tax lien was filed against Joe Momma's for $41,362, according to reports published by the Tulsa Business Journal. When asked about the lien, Ewing was open about the issue and said it was due to unpaid sales tax from "very early on" at the original, south-side Joe Momma's. "We were on a payment plan with the tax commission," Ewing told UTW.
"We were always in good standing with them, and it was paid in full," Ewing said. "So I don't owe anything to anyone right now."
These days, Ewing is busy juggling his businesses, a marriage and kids, so does he have time to handle a seat on city council? "They say, if you want something done right then give it to a busy person," Ewing said. "There's no question I've got a lot going on."
However, Ewing said he now has project managers and office managers in place to help stabilize his work week. "Now there are several layers between a problem and me. My life is a little more predictable, and as we get bigger, it gets better," Ewing said.
He said he decided to run for city council after spending a lot of time at City Hall. "After having an up close and personal experience, it became much more difficult for me to sit idly by. The more you know, the more you have to do," he said. "I couldn't blindly ignore what was going on."
Ewing is a chairman of the Shop Tulsa Task Force.
Republican Rocky Frisco is the only city council candidate with an endorsement from Florida comedy writer Dave Barry. "I am happy to endorse Rocky Frisco for Tulsa City Council, District Four, and, for that matter, president," Barry wrote.
Frisco is a well-known Tulsa character, libertarian and award-winning musician with strong opinions and a long history of running for council. He's played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Tulsa's beloved dive bars.
Frisco and his family moved to Tulsa from St. Louis in 1940. He graduated from Central High School in 1955. Frisco has lived in many places, but said he always considered Tulsa District 4 his home. Frisco still lives in the house his family moved into in 1940.
Frisco is a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors. He was inducted to the state's hall of fame in 2009.
On his campaign website, rocky4tulsa.com, he said he's running for city council again because "I turned 74 in July; this may be the last chance I have to win this position.
"I have been studying politics and government for years now and I want a chance to see how well I can perform in a representative office," he wrote.
As a prolific writer, Frisco has put pen to paper to explain his views on almost every political topic. Here is a short rundown of Frisco's ideas about various subjects.
On government: Unhappy with ordinances and regulations on everything how many animals can be kept in a household to what he sees as the micromanagement of the automotive industry, Frisco wrote, "The more government you have, the more rules and laws and ordinances you are subject to, the less liberty you have. Government tends to grow and liberty suffers," he wrote.
On politicians: "Politicians are experienced in politics, a game of lies, manipulation and the abuse of power. They make very lousy automotive engineers, sociologists, psychologists and peacemakers. Most of them know practically nothing about cabbages, but they do know how to make even more complicated laws and rules," he wrote.
On taxes: "Often it has been shown that lowering taxes results in greater revenue," he wrote on his site. "This may seem to be counterintuitive but taxes divert money that might be used for increased efficiency or production improvements. Lower taxes also mean that our city will be more attractive to industry, bringing better jobs, resulting in more revenue."
On the BOK Center: "I have heard that the BOK Center is good for Tulsa, since it generated a million dollars in tax revenue in one year. To me, it represents a giant sucking sound, as Tulsans pay high prices for tickets to performances by people who take the money home, away from Tulsa," he wrote.
On District 4 in the 1940s: "The side streets were dirt and the milkman had a horse and wagon. The streetcars that ran on 11th Street, Route 66, ran on steel tracks and were powered by overhead wires," he wrote.
Now, District 4 is better known! We've got six districts left to explore before the primaries on Sept. 13. Check back each week to get up close and personal with each of Tulsa's districts and the council candidates.
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