POSTED ON JANUARY 30, 2013:
Three's a Crowd?
Ex-mayor formidable foe in upcoming race
Veteran campaign manager Josh McFarland didn't mind suggesting his candidate, Bill Christiansen, might be an underdog in his bid to be Tulsa's next mayor.
"It kind of feels like everybody that I've worked with, it feels like we're going against the establishment. We're typically outspent," McFarland said.
But along with admiring Christiansen as someone who "truly wants to serve the people," McFarland praised him as a scrappy competitor.
"He's not going to be outworked," said McFarland, who took over as campaign manager when previous manager Erik Zoellner joined the staff of U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine in January.
For McFarland, the campaign strategy seems clear enough: "How we've been successful is by our grassroots organization. I mean, that's all I know. I've never had that candidate that outspends everybody three-to-one. We've made do with what we've had and been successful."
For six months, only Christiansen had declared a bid for mayor. But former mayor Kathy Taylor announced on Jan. 23 plans to run for the office.
Asked about her decision to enter the race, Taylor began by referencing her decision to not run for reelection in 2009 as "one of the toughest decisions I've ever made."
Noting her time spent serving as an advisor on education for former Gov. Brad Henry when he was in office, Taylor said she's "passionate about giving back to the community" and wants the voters to decide if she should again be Tulsa's mayor.
With her entrance into the race, politics will only ramp up in intensity until the June 11 primary.
The race dynamic could change again, and soon. But, so far, Mayor Dewey Bartlett has not declared his intention to seek a second term. On Dec. 31, a fundraising committee, "Bartlett For Mayor 2013," registered with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Albert Kelly was described as chair of the organization. With a SpiritBank address listed, the person involved is apparently banker "Kell" Kelly.
Bill Leighty, a member of the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission and also the Transportation Advisory Board, said he has not yet decided on whether to enter the mayor's race.
"Kathy Taylor's entrance into the race has definitely had an impact on what I'll eventually decide to do," Leighty said. "She's going to be a formidable candidate, there's no question about it."
He wondered whether Taylor's entrance into the race might influence Bartlett's decision. In 2009, Bartlett reportedly said he would not have run for the mayor's office had Taylor sought reelection.
In 2013, "I would think now he would definitely be an underdog going in," Leighty said.
Both Bartlett and Christiansen have sought elected office as Republicans, while Taylor was elected mayor as a Democrat.
But under new nonpartisan rules, any candidate winning 50 percent or more of the vote in the primary will be elected mayor.
If no candidate earns that total, there could be a runoff or the vote could move to the November general election.
It's a new system for Tulsa, one that should lead to more participation, said Sheryl Lovelady, a former political advisor who once worked as Taylor's communications director but now lives in Oklahoma City and is not involved with any political campaign.
"You don't have quite the ideological polar opposites, that's what partisan primaries tend to bring out, are candidates that lean to the far edges of the spectrum," Lovelady added.
Taylor brings tremendous name recognition and, with her wealth, likely deep pockets to pursue an aggressive media campaign -- though she's started with social media, cranking out a couple of dozen of Twitter messages on the day of her announcement, many to connect with supporters.
Taylor said she "doesn't always physically push the send button" on her social media messages, but that "nothing goes out that I don't approve."
Asked if she'll be using her personal wealth to fund her campaign, Taylor said only, "I hope that I am able to do a significant amount of fundraising." She added: "It all depends on how long the race is."
Anna America, who served as a Taylor mayoral aide, will serve as communications director, but Taylor declined to elaborate further on her campaign management, saying "we are putting a team together."
Should Bartlett enter the race, all three candidates will have an extensive public record as elected officials.
Christiansen, a city councilor from 2002 to 2011, said his focus is more on the future than the past.
"My goal really is to talk about the future of Tulsa. That's what the citizens want to know about," Christiansen said.
Taylor also downplayed how much the past will be a campaign issue.
"I don't think looking backwards serves any purpose. I think that each individual has their own leadership style, and I think that we've seen this divisive, bitter thing on the national level. I choose not to have that," Taylor said.
Bartlett famously ran his previous campaign with a pledge to be the "job-gettingest" mayor. Christiansen, asked about issues that might resonate with voters, talked about safety.
"I think, based on what I've heard from the citizens during my listen-and-learn tour, I think the biggest issue is public safety. I will stand by my statement and will have lots of dialogue about the need for more police officers, the need for additional 911 call center operators," Christiansen said.
He talked about the recent quadruple homicide at the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex near East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue, noting the nearby police substation has limited hours.
"On Riverside Drive is the south Tulsa police substation. Did you know it's only open from eight to four, five days a week?" asked Christiansen, calling for a "reprioritization" in city government to emphasize public safety.
Taylor also cited public safety as an issue likely to resonate with voters.
"I think public safety is probably issue number one, because you can't get people to move into a city and move jobs into a city if they don't feel safe on the street," Taylor said, though she also spoke about the importance of education and jobs as related issues.
Asked about the likely deep pockets of Taylor, Christiansen referred to the opponents of Vision2, the tax measure voted down in November which he also publicly opposed.
"I believe in my heart that grassroots will win every time over money, and I think a really good example of that is the Vision2 vote. The vote no people had about $20,000 to spend and the vote yes people spent over a million dollars, and it was a resounding defeat of Vision2," Christiansen said.
In the 2006 election, Taylor edged incumbent mayor Bill LaFortune, winning 51 percent of the vote to LaFortune's 47 percent.
Lovelady said much has changed in political campaigns since then, with the new emphasis on social media because that's where many voters spend their time. The strength of volunteer staff, "shoe leather" and one-on-one relationships also matter greatly in local races, she said.
Most city councilors contacted to get their thoughts on the mayor's race declined to comment; Councilor Phil Lakin in an email cited the policy of the Tulsa Community Foundation, where he serves as chief executive officer, to "never take political sides."
Councilor Jeannie Cue wrote in a statement: "We have qualified people that love and care about this city that are running. At this time I only know what I have read in the paper or saw on the news. I think this will be a great race."
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