POSTED ON NOVEMBER 16, 2011:
Mr. Blake Goes to City Hall
Tulsans sweep City Council clean and replace most incumbents with Jimmy Stewart-fresh faces
Either I'm dead right, or I'm crazy!" --Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
In 1939, Jimmy Stewart played Jefferson Smith, a brand-new Senator filled with vim, vigor and naïveté in the iconic Capra film.
In one of the movie's final and most climactic scenes, Mr. Smith makes a final, frustrated stand on the Senate floor. The epic speech he delivers in typical Stewart style is still memorable 70 years later.
"I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine," Mr. Smith says with gravelly earnestness. "All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for..."
"You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked!" Mr. Smith lolls, nearly delirious from his lengthy filibuster attempt. "Well, I'm not licked. And I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause, even if this room gets filled with lies like these," he shouts, and throws piles of papers in the air.
"Somebody will listen to me." And then Mr. Smith falls, fainting with exhaustion, into the pile of papers he'd thrown into the air just moments before. What goes up must come down.
As Mr. Smith faints, the crowded Senate chamber goes wild with screams over his slumped body. It was a revolutionary moment. The man he was confronting in the speech, Mr. Paine, has a change of heart.
With wild, white hair, Mr. Paine admits to having bought into the corruption in Washington, D.C., and in the way things go in Frank Capra's flicks, things change, corruption is uncovered and Mr. Smith's voice is heard above the cacophony of political posing and fraudulence.
Every time a bell rings, an elected official has a change of heart.
In the wake of the massive overhaul in Tulsa's City Council, an almost brand-new set of councilors (hey, 7 out of 9 ain't bad) will soon march up the steps to City Hall with Jimmy Stewart-like anticipation in their eyes.
The Sept. 13 primaries and Nov. 8 general election swept out all but two incumbents and added seven new councilors. One of the tightest and most publicized races of the season was in District 4. Democrat Ken Brune and Republican Blake Ewing were both newcomers to politics who got involved after feeling frustrated and let down by what they saw at City Hall.
Ewing, a local entrepreneur and owner of Joe Momma's, won the race with 3,186 votes (56.7 percent), though Brune, a longtime attorney, was close behind with 2,433 votes (43.3 percent).
Though Brune didn't capture the seat, he received almost double the votes than some of the districts' winners.
District 2's new councilor is Republican Jeannie Cue, a retired nurse who won with 1,755 votes (68.8 percent) to Democrat Phillip Oyler's 795 votes (31.2 percent).
In District 3, Batesline blogger Michael Bates said he suspected anti-incumbent sentiment created a tight race in this heavily Democratic district.
What should've been a runaway victory for the Democratic candidate, former councilor David Patrick, became a squeaker; Patrick re-captured the seat, but only by 143 votes. Republican rival David Bell garnered 1,014 votes (46.7 percent) to Patrick's 1,157 (53.3 percent).
Nine Angry Councilors
Tulsans decided to vote their councilors out after months of bickering began to look more like a poorly edited and acted version of the 1957 film "Twelve Angry Men" than an effective city council.
Henry Fonda starred in the black and white classic, where 12 angry guys in white dress shirts and suspenders fuss like little old ladies over a murder case.
In tense arguments over the facts of the case -- from poverty and race to a switchblade and an eyewitness -- the jurors decide the fate of one boy's life.
But Tulsans grew tired of seeing frustrations and even lawsuits flare up over and over again. It seems the city's definitely switched stations to see what a fresh set of eyes -- a Mr. Smith for the Tulsa scene -- can do with a chance in the very public political arena.
In District 5, incumbent Councilor Chris Trail was sent packing as greenhorn Republican Karen Gilbert, a Tulsa Public Schools administrative assistant, became the first new councilor of the election season.
One by one, most of the nine angry councilors were voted out. And soon, seven new Jimmy Stewart-fresh faces will appear on TGOV, the local public access site that streams weekly city of Tulsa meetings live and on demand.
In District 6, new recruit Republican Byron "Skip" Steele, a computer repair business owner, nabbed the council seat with 1,365 votes (76.5 percent), beating out Democrat Robert Gwin Jr., who garnered 419 votes (23.5 percent).
In District 7, Republican Thomas Mansur, a civil engineer, won by a hefty margin with 2,244 votes (74.2 percent), compared to his rival Democrat Michael Rainwater, who received 781 votes (25.8 percent).
The District 8 race wasn't close either despite a relatively large turnout. Republican Phil Lakin, CEO of Tulsa Community Foundation, won 4,316 votes (75 percent). His Democratic opponent, retired banker Bill Suliburk, gained 1,406 votes (25 percent).
In District 9, Councilor G.T. Bynum managed not only the largest margin of victory (80 percent) but also the largest number of votes (4,624) and the biggest war chest (with more than $90,000 in his coffers). He beat out one of the race's kindest contenders, Mike Batman, owner of Batman's Auto Sales.
Out of a total of 213,098 registered voters, 33,128 votes were cast in the Nov. 8 general election, which translates into an average turnout (15.55 percent).
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
In The Godfather -- a 1972 classic mob movie -- Marlon Brando plays the iconic, world-weary and deadly serious Don Corleone. In one dark and shadowed scene, the black-eyed Consigliari rubs his whiskers and whispers those timeless words, "I'm gonna make him an offer he won't refuse."
But on the Nov. 8 ballot, voters turned down three of five offers city councilors and Save Our Tulsa (SOT) committee members thought they couldn't refuse.
Two of the propositions would've drastically changed the face of our city government. Proposition No. 1 was an amendment to the city charter that would've changed the current strong mayor-city council government to a council-city manager form. The proposed council would've included the mayor.
A few additions were tacked onto the prop, including non-partisan elections, staggered 4-year terms and 12-year term limits.
But voters refused the offer, with 24,501 against (76.4 percent) and 7,558 for (23.6 percent) for the prop.
Tulsans also turned down Save Our Tulsa's initiative petition to add the mayor to the council as its chairperson. This controversial ballot prop also included a provision to include three at-large councilors to the council. The petition was denied, with voters against it 73.3 to 26.7 percent.
Interesting to note that SOT's proposal garnered an extra 721 votes than the council's version of the plan.
However, two other SOT proposals did turn out to be offers Tulsa voters couldn't refuse. Initiative Petitions No. 2 and 3 passed with healthy margins.
The second initiative is a long measure that will change city elections to even-numbered years to coincide with federal elections. This could boost voter turnout, but also may drown out city issues in the buzz that typically surrounds nationwide elections.
The initiative also switches the mayor's term to four years (starting in 2016), while city councilors' terms will be two years. The current slate of councilors will serve the terms for which they were elected, and then switch to a two-year term.
Initiative Petition No. 3 will make city elections non-partisan, which proponents say will allow all interested and willing voters to weigh in, even when there aren't any candidates running from their party.
For example, no Republicans could vote in District 1's election of incumbent Councilor Henderson, while no Democrats weighed in on the election of Republican Karen Gilbert as District 5 councilor.
The two councilors will represent both parties and all of their constituents though they were elected by only one party.
All in all, it's been an interesting election season. Now Tulsa has a nearly new council. We will be watching and waiting to see what this clean slate of councilors brings to the table. We hope they leave the gun and take the cannoli, in the way the phrase was meant when it was uttered in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece. Leave the dirty work behind, take the sweet, creamy pastries and move forward.
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