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Tulsa's election for mayor is less than a month way, and the choices are many

Tulsans head to the polls in less than a month to vote for mayor, city auditor and City Council. Several City Charter amendments also will be on the Aug. 25 ballot.

No race is more consequential — or crowded — than the one for mayor. Incumbent G.T. Bynum is seeking a second four-year term. Seven challengers want to see him gone in December, when his term expires.

They include a community organizer, a restaurant owner and an urban farmer, to name a few.

For a mayoral candidate to win on Aug. 25, he must receive more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate does that, the candidates who receive the greatest number of votes totaling 50% will face off in a Nov. 3 runoff.

To help the candidates introduce themselves to the public, the Tulsa World asked each one to fill out a brief questionnaire.

Below is an edited version of their responses. Read their complete responses at

Ricco Wright filed for office but later announced that he would not run. However, he did not formally withdraw from the race, and his name will be on the ballot. Zackri Whitlow did not return a completed questionnaire before the Tulsa World’s deadline.

Candidate: G.T. Bynum

Age: 42

Occupation: Mayor of Tulsa

What is the most serious challenge facing the city, and how would you seek to address it if you are elected?

The most serious challenge we face in Tulsa is emerging from the multiple crises of 2020 as a united city that can compete with the best cities in the world for quality of life and economic growth.

What will be your top priorities?

My top priorities remain making Tulsa a safer city, a city of opportunity for everyone, a city designed by this generation for the next generation.

If you are elected mayor, would you continue to pursue a police oversight program? Yes.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

The mayor of Tulsa is the CEO of one of the largest organizations in Tulsa, and the mayor’s team must provide exceptional service to multimillion-dollar developers, victims of violent crime, the everyday commuter on Tulsa streets, and everyone in between. Having managed such a large team these past four years in addition to spending eight years on the City Council before my time as mayor, I have the knowledge necessary to run the city and its operations for the next four years. Most importantly, Tulsans can see the remarkable progress we’ve made during the last four years in becoming a truly globally competitive city. A vote for me is a vote for the team and the spirit of collaboration that is moving Tulsa forward.

Candidate: Craig Immel

Age: 44

Occupation: Construction manager and urban farmer

What is the most serious challenge facing the city, and how would you seek to address it if you are elected?

Aside from the current COVID-19 health and economic crisis, Tulsa’s most serious challenge to effective municipal government is simply its location within the jurisdiction of the state of Oklahoma. Tulsa citizens are smart, innovative, entrepreneurial and compassionate, but our ability to build our brand and remain competitive nationally and world-wide is held back by backward policies made at the state Legislature in Oklahoma City.

What will be your top priorities?

Development of appropriate science- and fact-based COVID-19 response and recovery strategies is the most urgent priority right now. However, as a father to a Tulsa Public Schools student, fighting for the future of our public schools, kids, parents and teachers is my No. 1 priority for the next four years.

If you are elected mayor, would you work to pursue a police oversight program similar to what has been proposed by Mayor G.T. Bynum? Yes.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

I have direct experience in working with diverse groups of leading city planners, economic developers, builders and advocates from around the world, sharing the common goal of creating thriving urban environments designed to meet social, economic and environmental sustainability goals for all citizens, businesses and stakeholders.

In 2015, I took a bold stand against an illegal, backroom deal to sell off a large parcel of River Parks land at Helmerich Park to an out-of-state strip mall developer for pennies on the dollar.

Editor’s note: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has yet to issue a final ruling in the Helmerich Park case.

Candidate: Ken Reddick

Age: 37

Occupation: Project manager/small-business owner of Clean Slate Contracting

What is the most serious challenge facing the city, and how would you seek to address it if you are elected?

Today the most important issue in Tulsa is building bridges between our communities. My No. 1 priority will be to address the lack of communication between the communities of Tulsa. I will use the Mayor’s Office to facilitate resources and build a coalition to address our most troubled neighborhoods. We will do this by creating a Tulsa Chapter of the Ten Point Coalition based out of Indianapolis.

What will be your top priorities?

Creating a coalition of stakeholders in the community to turn back the statistics on crime in our neighborhoods. Reforming our permitting process across the entire metro area. Performing a citywide efficiency audit and removing waste in our government.

If you are elected mayor, would you work to pursue a police oversight program similar to what has been proposed by Mayor G.T. Bynum?

Absolutely not! The oversight committee that has been pushed by our mayor would only seek to undermine our local law enforcement. I agree that we need better training and transparency, but this is not the way. I support our Tulsa Police Department.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

We are the most prepared to take office and make real positive change. Other candidates are running on single issues and have no in-depth plans to address the problems facing Tulsa. We are well aware and ready.

Candidate: Greg Robinson II

Age: 30

Occupation: Director of Community and Family Organizing, Met Cares Foundation

What is the most serious challenge facing the city, and how would you seek to address it if you are elected?

As Tulsa grapples with a rapid spike in COVID-19, we have to acknowledge that this pandemic is not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis, an educational crisis and a social crisis. This moment has laid bare deep and long-standing inequities across our city. As mayor, I will fight to ensure that we take every necessary step to protect our community from the spread of the virus. I will also actively address the disparities that have caused so many Tulsa families to experience health and economic distress in this time so that we emerge from this crisis stronger.

What will be your top priorities?

As mayor, my top priorities in serving all Tulsans will be to ensure that our city is one rooted in freedom, justice, equity and safety. The city will pursue a set of policies that will focus on achieving:

1. Inclusive economic development; 2) Equity in housing and public education; 3) Investment in mental and public health; 4) Safety of Tulsans over politics.

If you are elected mayor, would you work to pursue a police oversight program similar to what has been proposed by Mayor G.T. Bynum?

I have proudly stood alongside fellow Tulsans for years, calling for strong community-led oversight and comprehensive, commonsense policing reform. I would do the same as mayor.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

Tulsa is my home. I believe so deeply in this city and know that as we approach the centennial of the 1921 massacre we can draw on every bit of tenacity and boldness we have to build the city we dream of. We don’t have to be the underdog. We don’t have to be the city that strives to compete. We can be the city that others strive to compete with.

Candidate: Paul Tay

Age: 57

Occupation: Real estate

What will be your top priorities?

1) The pandemic. We need to look to the 1918 pandemic for cues to the solution and follow the science; 2) The racial divide. As the only candidate of Chinese descent, I understand both black and white sides. 3) The federal war on drugs: Drug abuse should be treated as a public health issue, not criminal.

If you are elected mayor, would you work to pursue a police oversight program similar to what has been proposed by Mayor G.T. Bynum?

It’s time to hold individual police officers accountable for their actions. I will execute an executive order requiring all police officers to carry third-party personal liability and malpractice insurance, end the unconstitutional practice of qualified immunity, and learn to de-escalate tense situations.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

Tulsans should vote for me because I am the only candidate with a physics degree and training as Marine Corps officer at Quantico Base, Virginia. I was the first to publicly speak for more bicycling. I instigated the movement to rename Brady, in all its forms.

Candidate: Ty Walker

Age: 54

Occupation: Small-business owner

Why are you running for mayor?

I am running because I want to create a better Tulsa with a brighter future for all of Tulsa.

What is the most serious challenge facing the city, and how would you seek to address it if you are elected?

Economic prosperity.

What will be your top priorities?

Economic development, small-business support and unifying Tulsa.

If you are elected mayor, would you work to pursue a police oversight program similar to what has been proposed by Mayor G.T. Bynum? No.

Why should Tulsans vote for you as opposed to any of the other candidates?

I am the only candidate running that has walked across the bridge that we are trying to cross now.

Tulsa's search will continue for unmarked burials from 1921 Race Massacre

One thing repeated over and over on Thursday when the search for unmarked burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre closed up shop in Oaklawn Cemetery was this:

This isn’t over.

The likeliest scenario seems to be a return to Oaklawn in the fall. It is the most accessible and thoroughly surveyed location studied to date.

An area west of downtown and Rolling Oaks Cemetery in far south Tulsa are other possibilities.

In any event, the next step will be determined by the citizen oversight committee, which is expected to meet soon. As the initial test excavation demonstrated, no location is a certainty or even likely.

In his remarks Thursday, though, Mayor G.T. Bynum said he thinks the city is finally ready to find the truth.

“Every conversation I’ve had with a Tulsan the last two weeks, they wanted to know how this investigation is going,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “What I take from that is that Tulsa in July of 2020 is a city that is fully committed to finding our neighbors who were murdered in 1921.”

Whether that commitment holds up over the months or even years it could take to fully investigate the possibilities remains to be seen, of course. The list is long, the uncertainties many and the degree of difficulty great.

There is some chance, although it is almost apostasy to say so, that few if any remains are left to find.

To be sure, there is plenty of evidence to support the belief that many more people died in the massacre than have been accounted for.

Maj. Byron Kirkpatrick of the Oklahoma National Guard told the Tulsa World late on June 1, 1921, he was aware of reports that “a number of bodies were removed in motor trucks operated by citizens.”

The World said Kirkpatrick did not know whether those bodies had been turned over to authorities, “dumped into a large hole or thrown into the Arkansas River.”

In that same story, the World cited an “unofficial” estimate of 100. Another National Guard officer said it might be 175.

An announcement the next day that only 27 bodies had been found only fed the suspicion that others had been hurriedly disposed of.

The 27 deaths eventually grew to 37 over the summer as additional remains were found and a few men died of their injuries, but the belief that the death count was even higher persisted.

Dozens of possible locations have been put forward over the years: the Arkansas River, the Verdigris River, the city incinerator, the city dump, the west side rail yards, Turkey Mountain, coal mines near Dawson in what is now northeast Tulsa, a field north of town, Oaklawn Cemetery, the old Rentie’s Grove settlement at present-day 91st Street and Harvard Avenue, to name just a few.

For various reasons, Oaklawn and Rolling Oaks cemeteries and the area west of downtown, known as The Canes, are now considered the most likely. Each has something to recommend it, but with each there is also reason to doubt.

All three were fairly accessible to the public in 1921, for example, so if secrecy was the first priority they don’t seem as likely. But if secrecy was not a priority, they make perfect sense.

The historic record is so convoluted that unraveling a clear narrative has been impossible. After nearly a century, a story that was confused at the beginning is even more so now.

“The race massacre occurred 99 years ago,” said historian Scott Ellsworth. “For the first 50 of those, the massacre was actively suppressed. ... That’s a big barrier, 50 years of lies and deceit.

“We live in an age when everything happens like this,” Ellsworth said, holding up a smartphone. “We’ll get texts, we’ll get phone messages, things happen bang, bang, bang. Please remember we were only out there for, actually, seven days.

“Ninety-nine years,” he said, “versus seven days.”


Gallery: Digging continues for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves

Gallery: Digging continues Tuesday for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery

Will every firearm Tulsa Police point be documented? 'Jury is still out,' Chief Franklin says

Clarification: The story has been updated to more accurately reflect what the university study reported regarding force involving firearms.

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin says he might entertain the concept of requiring officers to document every time they point a firearm at a person, but he isn’t inclined to install that policy without either an example from other agencies or research.

Three city councilors during a meeting July 15 on use-of-force reforms conveyed support for having police report when they point a gun or Taser toward a person. Franklin said that after the committee meeting he submitted a request to the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association for information on use of force and metrics, including documenting displayed weaponry.

Police Maj. Matt Kirkland, who gave the council presentation, said TPD doesn’t intend to collect such data because there’s “a very low likelihood of injury” without touching a person and that gathering and measuring “the application of actual force” is the goal.

In an interview last week with the Tulsa World, Franklin said “the jury is still out” and that he would need to determine what would be gained by capturing that data and balance department needs with officer capability.

“We can create reports all day long for officers to do when they did this or when they did that, but at the end of the day our job is to be out on the street and available to the citizens to prevent criminal acts from taking place,” Franklin said. “If I have an officer that is doing nothing more than typing reports on why they had to pull their gun from their holster, that’s going to make a department ineffective.”

Franklin said he relies on his “sounding board,” or subject matter experts and training academy personnel who reach out to others across the country.

He said they tell him that requiring officers to document each time they point a gun causes officer apprehension or hesitation to use the firearm when needed.

The police chief said he isn’t sure he wants to go down that road yet, but that isn’t to say he won’t implement a policy like that in the future.

“We’re coming off the heels of two officers being shot, and neither one of those officers were able to get their gun out of the holster to defend themselves,” Franklin said. “Police officers are always, always at a disadvantage because we have to react. When you have to react, that will slow you down, and being able to have a gun out of the holster and ready for use is just something that’s common sense for us because we’re already operating at a disadvantage.”

During the council committee meeting July 15, Councilor Kara Joy McKee said that an officer directing a weapon toward a person might create a heightened anxiety in that person, which could escalate the situation or place the officer in more danger.

Councilors Jeannie Cue and Vanessa Hall-Harper were the two other councilors who supported documenting weapon displays, with the latter being the more forceful of the three and calling it “ridiculous” that TPD doesn’t do it.

The TPD use-of-force narrative data analysis report conducted by the University of Texas at San Antonio and University of Cincinnati was released an hour before the committee meeting.

In it, the researchers ranked officer force by severity level. A firearm display or threat ranked fourth highest out of the six categories.

The researchers compared Tulsa police to Cincinnati police use-of-force narratives and found that, when a police weapon was involved, Tulsa officers displayed or threatened or used firearms more than twice as often as Cincinnati officers.

A Tulsa World reporter asked Franklin why he wasn’t in favor of tracking a force that the researchers placed in the upper half of their force spectrum.

The police chief responded that he considers that pulling or displaying a weapon could be as low as a one because the danger is when the trigger is squeezed, not when a gun is displayed.

He said those displays sometimes de-escalate a situation more rapidly than just verbal communication.

The Tulsa World on the third anniversary of Terence Crutcher’s death at the hands of then-TPD Officer Betty Shelby looked at how the department’s use-of-force policy changed to include de-escalation language.

A researcher with Campaign ZERO, a national police reform advocacy group, had published a study days after Crutcher’s killing that highlighted use-of-force policies that his work found were associated with police departments having fewer fatal shootings.

The researcher, Sam Sinyangwe, emphasized that TPD didn’t require comprehensive force reporting, specifically pointing firearms at people.

Documenting such force allows the department to learn how officers apply the technique, as well as whether they needlessly escalate an encounter by prematurely pointing a gun.

“When an officer points a firearm at you, that’s definitely experienced as a force being used,” Sinyangwe said at the time. “It’s a traumatic event, and it’s something worth tracking.”

A World article, published Sept. 16, 2019, noted that a recent study commissioned by the Phoenix Police Department presented comprehensive reporting as its No. 1 recommendation after the city experienced an unprecedented increase of police shootings in 2018 and 2019.

Police in New Orleans were under a federal consent decree since 2013 that mandated comprehensive reporting after the U.S. Department of Justice investigated an alleged pattern of civil rights violations and other misconduct.


Gallery: A look at the career of Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin

Gallery: A look at the career of new Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin

With COVID-19 precautions, eating on a college campus might seem 'really weird' this semester

Dining areas will offer few menu options and limited seating as students return next month to college campuses across Oklahoma, higher education officials say.

The COVID-19 pandemic will make lunchtime less of a social occasion this fall semester as campuses try to keep students fed but also try to keep them from congregating.

At the University of Oklahoma, for example, students will get in and out of dining areas by following designated pathways, carefully mapped out to prevent customers from passing each other.

A limited number of tables and chairs will be available. And self-serve lines will disappear, with grab-and-go options taking their place, OU officials said.

“While we recognize that students will remove their masks to eat,” OU spokeswoman Kesha Keith said, “they will be required to keep their mask on at all other times in university facilities and anytime they cannot maintain physical distance from others.”

Mandatory mask rules will apply on most campuses statewide, including the University of Tulsa, where seating capacity will be cut 70% in all dining areas.

That will likely give most students no option but to take meals to-go, and the Student Union will add several grab-and-go options to make it more convenient to eat somewhere else, TU officials said.

The student union will also introduce “contactless mobile ordering” by app to encourage students to get in and out of the dining areas quickly.

Emphasizing that “health and safety are the priority,” TU’s Student Association president recently issued a video statement encouraging her fellow students to cooperate with the new way of eating on campus.

“The university is a tight-knit community,” Faith Nichols said. “As always, we’re in this together.”

Similarly, Oral Roberts University will create a new “Simply To Go” carry-out option to help students avoid a long wait in the main cafeteria, where seating capacity will shrink from 700 chairs to only 300.

Students will have to enter on one side of the cafeteria and exit on the other to avoid crossing paths, ORU officials said. And they will be allowed to remove their masks only while seated and eating, officials said.

Cafeteria staff will undergo daily wellness checks. And in addition to wearing masks, cafeteria employees will work behind Plexiglas barriers while students use new “touchless transaction scanners” to make payments.

The changes will seem “really weird,” Augustine Mendoza, a director of spiritual life and chaplain programs, acknowledged in a recent statement to students.

But these “unprecedented times” require flexibility, Mendoza said.

“And you know what?” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all going to eat.”


COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues