Today on TLO, we’re featuring Q&A’s with the two electable candidates in the 2014 Oklahoma City Mayoral Election: Mayor Mick and Councilman Ed. We sent the same 19 questions about local issues and culture to each one. The questions are all over the map – some are serious, some are absurd, and one I forgot to ask, hence the 19 questions. It’s also the closest thing this city will probably have to an actual debate.
Earlier this morning, I told you about how I was drunk the first time I met Mayor Cornett. Well, the first time I met Councilman Ed Shadid I wasn’t sober either. I was loaded up on Sudafed, Vicks and caffeine.
In early December, Ed and I met up at Red Cup on a Friday afternoon for coffee. What a hipster thing to do. Before the meeting, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know a lot about Ed. Based on his campaign materials and soft voice, I pegged him as a quiet, reserved and ultra-serious politician. And I was wrong. In many ways, Ed was totally different from what I expected. He’s candid, laid back, and pretty damn cool. He has some sort of charisma that’s hard to explain. For nearly two hours, we had an engaging conversation about Oklahoma City and the issues this town is facing. By the end of our talk, I was ready to march out the door and start hiring policeman and paving sidewalks in neighborhoods with him.
Here’s his Q&A:
1. What will be your number one priority if elected mayor of Oklahoma City?
A: Fight the decay of our neighborhoods seen in all parts of the city.
The wholesale decay of our neighborhoods is not inevitable. We must resist the temptation to resign ourselves to the idea that we cannot revitalize our neighborhoods. Such decay simply does not occur in the same manner in other large cities throughout the world. The new comprehensive plan being developed, the first in 30 years, should give us an idea of what different types of growth (where we place the city’s new infrastructure) patterns will cost in terms of long-term maintenance and delivery of services and we should develop a fiscally conservative approach to growth which allows us to protect what we have already built. Just as the original MAPS provided a much-needed shot in the arm for our downtown, MAPS 4 Neighborhoods could transform the city and lead to real improvements in our public health and quality of life. A study released this last month points out that we fund our neighborhood parks at very low levels compared to other American cities. Developing hubs of activity throughout the city by investing in “complete streets,” neighborhood plazas and parks, street lights and trees and then surrounding them with mixed-use retail and residential buildings and connecting these hubs with transit, trails and sidewalks would dramatically improve the health and happiness of the people of Oklahoma City.
2. Oklahoma City has a weak mayor system, right? Does that hurt your ego at all? How many push-ups can you do in one minute?
A: Oklahoma City has a council-manager form of government rather than the “weak-mayor” form of a Mayor-council government. Mayor-council is the form of government used in most large cities but not in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City uses a form of government called council-manager, typically used in counties and smaller cities in which the mayor and council are a legislative body that creates policy and ordinances and votes for appropriations while the city manager is effectively a CEO who runs the administrative function of government. We currently have the longest serving city manager (some 13 years) in the history of the city. When we have a absentee mayor, such as Mick Cornett, who is spending every other week for two years during his last term living in NYC, power is tilted even further towards the city manager as he has assumed not only his city manager duties but some duties traditionally reserved for the mayor such as consulting with the council, working to develop consensus among the council, etc…
3. As you know, there’s a movement to end the Maps III tax early and scrap plans for the Convention Center. Should it be built as planned? Also, what’s up with the hotel everyone talks about?
A: Mick Cornett lied to the people of OKC when he claimed during the MAPS campaign “when our new convention center is built we will nearly triple the economic impact of our convention business.” Although no city has been able to double, much less triple, their convention business with an expansion, the study Mick is citing this number from has never been released to the public and states that in order to do so would require a 650-room hotel which almost certainly would need massive public subsidies if not complete ownership by the city along with a phase II expansion of the convention center, significant investment in parking, and millions in additional annual funding of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Mick mentioned none of this because he knew that it would be very unpopular with the people of OKC and would likely cause MAPS3 to be voted down. Mick knew that once MAPS3 was passed, 5 votes on the council would be all the authority that was needed to commit taxpayers to borrow most or all of the $200 million which would be needed to build the hotel as well as commit a funding source, such as our annual budget or General Fund, as collateral on the loan. Such high-risk development will not require a vote of the people (unless the initiative petition currently circulating is successful in forcing a referendum on the issue).
Mick has successfully been able to delay the study that would have outlined financing options and the likely amount of a taxpayer subsidy for 6 months until after the mayoral election (we were supposed to have it completed by now). The city has relegated responsibility for hotel development to the CVB and a non-profit, the Alliance for Economic Development. There is no hotel chain that is coming to us and wanting to develop a convention center hotel. If we were really going to triple the economic impact of our convention business by simply building the MAPS3 convention center, one would expect the private sector to come running. But they aren’t, because they understand the risk of these hotels and the completely unrealistic nature of Mick’s promises during the campaign. These hotels are a hybrid between a convention center at the bottom, with tens of thousands of square feet of meeting room space, and normal hotel rooms on the upper floors. The meeting rooms do not generate revenue during times without a convention and many of these types of hotels have performed poorly in cities throughout the country.
The question is not just going to be why the taxpayers should pay for the hotel, but is likely to be why should the taxpayers also have to risk a dedicated revenue stream such as parking garage revenue or even our general fund as collateral on the loan. Citizens need to be made aware of what would occur if the hotel did not perform well enough to make its loan payments. It is possible under scenarios being presented privately to the council that such poor performance would entail diverting money away from other city services to pay for such shortfalls.
4. Now that Gary England has retired, who’s your favorite TV meteorologist? Actually, now that Gary England is retired, who’s your favorite meteorologist not named Emily Sutton.
A: I get my news on the weather online except at times in May when all of them are my favorite.
5. When’s the last time you’ve taken either a bus or bike to work?
A: Last week, and my bus never came.
6. Where’s the best hamburger in Oklahoma City? If you “list” Little Mike’s, please jump to Question 9.
A: Vegetarian. I like the black bean veggie burger at Johnnies’s.
7. What are your thoughts on the marijuana legalization movement hitting the country? Would you be in favor of medicinal marijuana, decriminalization or even legalization? Also, have you or would you ever smoke pot with Wayne Coyne?
A: The fact is that Mick has significant skeletons in his closet (not in decades past but during his last term in office) and if the media had simply asked him and investigated into what they collectively knew, he would likely be unelectable. You have already heard the answer, which sounded written for Wayne Coyne, to the last question. Any other issues you have heard about that needs to be asked of the candidates? The fear among the media is almost palpable.
As to marijuana legalization: In my medical practice I do not like to be the first or last to do anything. I want to see what happens in Colorado and Washington. It is clearly schizophrenic policy to have the most lenient marijuana criminal code in one state and the most draconian in the adjacent state. There is clearly medicinal benefit to marijuana ranging from appetite to glaucoma. In my anecdotal experience over the last two decades, many of my patients with chronic pain, including nerve pain, have reported that they experience diminution in pain from its use. I cannot recommend that treatment both because it is illegal and because I don’t have the peer-reviewed studies that I need to form an opinion at this time. Contrary to popular opinion, addiction to marijuana, while probably limited to high single digit percentages of users, is possible and needs to be a consideration in any legalization strategy.
8. Should the Oklahoma City Thunder amnesty Kendrick Perkins?
A: ……………………………..I’m sorry what did you say. I was distracted by noting that the Red Dirt Report’s story on an anonymous group spending enormous amounts of money on behalf of Mick Cornett, not even bothering to file an ethics report and making a mockery of our democracy just passed 5,000 Facebook shares.
9. If you could say one thing to Sally Kern and / or Jenni Carlson, what would it be?
A: Vote for me on March 4th.
10. What will you do to stop all the earthquakes?
A: Stop them? I’m going to start naming them.
11. Are you in favor of the demolition of Stage Center and putting a generic skyscraper for a regulated electric utility that will sometimes cut off your power if you forget to pay your bill because the online bill pay didn’t go through in its place?
A: I wish we could have saved John Johansen’s architectural icon. The matter does not come before council but I would have voted against it being torn down under the current plan. We are either developing the Core to Shore area or we are not. Was that area not in consideration? The OG&E building which, in it’s conceptual stage, is something quite different than we were led to believe would replace the Stage Center in reading reports over the last year. Steve Lackmeyer’s recent article about the nine buildings we wish we could have back but tore down should give us pause.
12. If you could drink any type of cold pop with Sweet Brown, what would it be? You know, considering you got time for that.
A: I would always make time for Sweet Brown.
13. According to the Pew Research Center, 42,000 Hispanic people in Oklahoma City do not speak English well. Anything you’d like to say to them in Spanish?
Here is a link to my campaign commercial in Spanish:
14. Can you get the Oklahoma City Zoo to bring back those Mold-A-Rama plastic figuring machines? They really add to the experience.
A: I’ll see what I can do.
15. What the hell is going on along May Ave? Can we please hurry it up? I think it took me 20 minutes to get from Zorba’s to Cousin’s the other day.
A: May Ave is about 25 miles long. I assume you are talking about South May?
16. Any advice for people coming out to play one TLO Trivia Night for the first time?
A: I played about a month ago and my team was in first place until the final question in which you can wager as many of your points as you would like. We foolishly didn’t bet any (hoping that others would get the question wrong and we would remain in first place) and let others pass us by after leading all night. No guts, no glory.
17. How would you grade the job of Jim Couch as Oklahoma City City Manager?
A: This is the first time during the campaign that anyone has publicly asked this question and I applaud you as in our form of government tremendous power is held by the city manager. There is no one else the city would want working on virtually anything having to do with the water needs of the City of OKC. He knows how to count to 5 (the number of votes of councilmembers needed to get any policy or ordinance passed) and is effective at keeping open lines of communication with all council members. He is personable and I enjoy my time with him, especially bike riding. He has tremendous experience and there is no educational substitute for learning from the city’s success and walking through the city’s hell-fires for decades.
Conversely, he surrounds himself with those lacking in the will to challenge him and, as I have said publicly on many occasions, he has engaged in the marginalization of the planning director and department to the city’s detriment. The problems I have with the city manager’s office have less to do with Jim Couch and more to do with the vacuum which is created by having a mayor who is not physically present and not actively engaged. This lack of balance is unfairly causing the city manager to take on more responsibility that the system is designed for.
18. How will you keep Oklahoma City in the national spotlight?
A: Regardless of who holds the mayor’s seat, OKC and all the cities along the I-35 corridor (OKC, DFW, Austin, San Antonio, Houston) will outpace the rest of the country because of the continuation of the oil and gas expansion and the likely continuation of government job-creation (top employers in OKC are the State, City, FAA, Postal Service, Tinker AFB, along with the U. of Oklahoma and OKCPS). Conditions will continue to favor urban environments such as Oklahoma City and the migration towards denser, urban environments should continue over the next couple of decades. We need to fight the neighborhood decay referenced earlier in order to increase the quality of life and we need to work with the legislature to improve our schools.
As a physician I will emphasize work towards improving the city’s public health. I will push the conversation about issues facing the people of Oklahoma including record amounts of physical and sexual violence towards children, addiction, domestic violence, incarceration and poverty. By making strategic investments in our transit system and throughout our neighborhoods where 600,000 people live, we can actually see improvement in many of our public health epidemics, as well as improve the sense of community and emotional well being of the population.
19. Can you say something nice about you opponent? When this campaign is done, are you going to meet at Braum’s for ice cream?
A: Mick is a good communicator and I am grateful for his taking the first step towards tackling the obesity problem, which is breaking through denial and inducing society’s realization that we have a problem. But as to my opponent? The good-ole boys can meet me at Braum’s anytime. Cappucino chunky chocolate, please.
We’d like to thank Ed for his time. To read our Q&A with Mayor Cornett, click here.