Mayor G.T. Bynum isn’t leaving office for 23 months, but already the list of potential candidates to succeed him is growing longer by the day. Or so it seems.
They are all familiar names: Carol Bush, Karen Keith, Dave Rader, Monroe Nichols, Phil Lakin, Jayme Fowler and John O’Connor.
No one on the list, it’s important to emphasize, is a definite go. They are all thinking about it, they told the Tulsa World last week, and will let Tulsans know when they know.
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Mayoral candidates can’t file for office until June 2024, followed by the general election that August and, if necessary, a runoff election that November.
Tulsa’s next mayor — the city’s 41st — won’t be sworn into office until Dec. 2, 2024.
So this picture is going to change. But for now, here are brief bios of the potential candidates and why they say they’re contemplating running for the highest elected office in city government. Tulsa’s municipal elections are nonpartisan — in name, at least.
Bush — the former longtime executive director of the Tulsa Crime Prevention Network, now called Tulsa Crime Stoppers — says her six years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives drove home the fact that she is “a Tulsa girl.”
“Tulsa is a different beast than the rest of the state, and I think I have a lot to offer with my diverse background that I have had and everything that I have done over my decades here in the city,” said Bush. “I would like to see our city grow and develop and move forward in positive directions, and I think I would like an opportunity to be that person to help it.”
Bush, 61, is a registered Republican. She was elected to represent House District 70 in 2016. She chose not to seek reelection last year.
“When I did not seek reelection for the state House, it was one of the things I wanted to do,” Bush said of running for mayor. “And then I kind of put it on the back burner, but it has kind of come to the forefront.
“I haven’t decided for sure, but I plan on making a final decision if I am in or not here in the next couple of weeks.”
The 64-year-old wealth manager is beginning his second term on the City Council but says he’s hearing from people every day who are asking about a different government job.
“Not a day goes by when somebody doesn’t ask me if I want to run for mayor,” Fowler said. “I have discussions with my wife, and she’s given a blessing about it. So at this point in time, I have not ruled that out at all, and I am exploring the opportunity.”
Fowler’s parents were both lifelong educators in Tulsa Public Schools, and he has worked in major cities across the country. Since being elected to the City Council in 2020, the Republican has made the revitalization of the 61st Street and Peoria Avenue area a top priority.
“These experiences have given me a deep respect of what we can do here in Tulsa. … I truly enjoy folks from all walks of life and wake up with an insatiable curiosity as to how we can make Tulsa better,” he said.
Keith already has a job she loves: District 2 Tulsa County commissioner. Her fourth four-year term is set to end in 2024, just in time for a new job, should she be looking for one.
She’s not looking, but she says she’s heard from plenty of people who would like her to consider taking her talents to City Hall.
“Anyone who knows me knows my passion for Tulsa,” said Keith, 69. “I am flattered by the numerous requests from friends, colleagues and sometimes people I don’t even know asking me to run. So, yes, I am seriously considering serving in this capacity.”
After a long career in local television, Keith worked in Mayor Bill LaFortune’s administration, where she was instrumental in the passage of the Vision 2025 sales tax package. She also worked for the Tulsa Regional Chamber before being elected to the County Commission in 2008.
“Having served at City Hall, I have great respect for the employees and their dedication to making Tulsa the great city it is,” Keith said. “My focus would be to build on the progress we have made in the past few years to improve our infrastructure, grow economic opportunities, and support additional public and private investments in our overall quality of life.”
Keith, a registered Democrat, said she will take the next few months to consult with family, friends and colleagues to determine where she can best serve the community.
The longtime CEO of Tulsa Community Foundation has served as the District 8 city councilor since 2011.
Lakin’s explanation for why he would consider a run for mayor is one people who have followed his career will find familiar.
“I care deeply about Tulsa — always have and always will,” he said. “That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to our city, serving as a city councilor and leading Tulsa Community Foundation.”
Lakin, a Republican, is one of the longest-serving members of the current City Council class, and that is reflected in his many committee assignments.
He was a key proponent behind a multimillion-dollar effort to update the city’s municipal court system and has helped secure the passage of three capital improvement packages, including ones with funding for street widening projects and a south Tulsa dam.
“We have done good work and built exceptional momentum, but the work and opportunities never end,” Lakin said. “I want to continue to lead our city in delivering everything it should be to its citizens, from the visionary elements that shape our quality of life to the core services, like recruiting businesses, fixing streets and ensuring safety.”
The 55-year-old two-time City Council chairman said it would be an honor to serve and represent his hometown as mayor.
“I look forward to finalizing my decision soon,” he said. “In the meantime, I’ll keep giving this city everything I have, every single day.
Nichols, 39, was recently elected to a fourth term in state Legislature representing House District 72. He first made a name for himself when he worked for Mayor Kathy Taylor more than a decade ago.
“My first job out of college was working in the Mayor’s Office,” Nichols said. “And the thing that I remember most fondly about that was the tight connection you had at the local level with constituents, because everything that you are doing there is impacting people on a daily basis.”
Nichols went on to work as chief of staff for former OU-Tulsa President Gerry Clancy and was director of business retention and expansion programs for the Tulsa Regional Chamber. He co-founded Impact Tulsa in 2014.
Nichols, a Democrat, said he’s enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City but that it’s not quite the same as the day-to-day interactions he had with constituents while working in City Hall.
“The more you elevate in that direction, the farther you are away from folks,” he said. “And so I have always been very passionate about coming back and serving back in City Hall.”
The former state attorney general thinks it’s a bit of an overstatement to say he is “contemplating” a run for mayor, but he acknowledges that it’s crossed his mind.
“I have had the prospect mentioned to me, and I have had people ask me of my interest — some people I respect who care a lot about Tulsa like I do,” O’Connor said. “So what I have told them is that I am giving it some thought and talking with (my wife) Lucia.
“It is something that I will consider.”
O’Connor was appointed attorney general by Gov. Kevin Stitt in July 2021 after then-Attorney General Mike Hunter resigned. O’Connor’s quest to serve a full four-year term ended in June when he lost a close primary election to Gentner Drummond, who was sworn in on Monday.
O’Connor, a 68-year-old Republican, had never run for public office before he ran for attorney general.
So why entertain a run for mayor?
“I think that leadership and direction matter,” O’Connor said.
Under Bynum’s leadership the city has experienced a surge in energy and momentum, O’Connor said, and he would like to see it continue and even accelerate — but that will require more strong leadership.
“We need to keep bringing in new jobs. We need innovation to take advantage of the fact that a person can be an employee of the corporation that is out of state but can work remotely from Tulsa,” O’Connor said. “So I just think it matters; every element of leadership matters.”
Rader, 65, came to prominence on the football field. He was a star quarterback at Will Rogers High School and the University of Tulsa. He went on to coach on the college level over four decades, including 12 years as head coach at his alma mater.
Rader’s resume includes an equally distinguished record of public service. In addition to the six years he’s spent representing District 39 in the state Senate — he is in the middle of his second four-year term — he’s also served on the board of directors for the John 3:16 Mission and other organizations.
Rader said running for mayor is something he’s thought about and is thinking about, but he said his duties at the state Capitol have kept him from delving into that possibility further.
The Republican lawmaker said that if he ran for mayor, it would be because he loves Tulsa.
“It would be a great honor to be mayor, but the decision to run hasn’t been made.”
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