Blake Ewing

My Side of the Story

A New Year

Posted on December 31, 2013

So I’m sitting in my office just now feeling like I’m caught in the eye of a storm. My businesses are all full of incredible people, working hard to get ready for our New Year’s Eve party, which is involving all of our places. It’s kind of that fun feeling of having all the kids home for Christmas. They’re all working together, across restaurant and bar lines to prepare for the biggest party we’ve ever thrown. My morning has been spent making last minute babysitting arrangements for tonight, working on a southwest breakfast casserole recipe for White Flag’s first brunch tomorrow,  working expo and talking to guests there during lunch, and having conversations about our day’s timeline of renting cocktail tables, readying the coat check room, putting up new signage, dealing with a new roof leak, etc. My life is full. My life is fun. I am happy.

So here I am, taking a break to look back at this year and to think of the things I resolved to do and to take stock. I resolved to get healthy in 2013. I had neglected my physical health for years, banging around the inside of these restaurants, eating and stressing and taking no time to focus on my own well-being. In 2013, I made great strides. I lost nearly 70 lbs, worked out, coached football, played basketball with high school buddies, played outside with the boys more, bought a bike and even a skateboard. I even went to the dentist (lots of times). My health, while not at my goal, is much better. I’ll make the same resolution again for ’14 and will work to continue being a healthier (and hopefully longer living) version of myself. This makes me happy.  I also worked on adding new discipline to my life and will continue to do that. I want to be more predictable in my schedule, spend even more time at home, and just generally slow down. I tried to do this, but some of my circumstances didn’t let it happen like I wanted. I’ll keep working at it. It will likely be my struggle for the rest of my life.

I also started going to church again regularly this year. Julie and I would have probably called ourselves “church-goers” over the years, but my general frustration with the institutional church and with Christians who don’t act like Jesus had put me in a place where I just didn’t really feel like I wanted to be a part of the whole thing anymore. I’m surrounded by people in my day to day who have been hurt by Christians, who they feel spend more energy judging them than loving them. I don’t know when this faith became more about separation than inclusion and more about spotting sin than loving the world of people around us, but I feel like it did…and it made me angry, so I kind of just stopped somewhere along the way, only going with Mom and Dad every now and then. This year, however, we found a place full of broken, messed up people like us who are trying to figure it all out and who aren’t afraid of people who are different from them. They’re okay with asking questions, and not knowing the answers. They’re involved in the story and are working to unlock the mystery, not because modern day Christians need to have all the answers, but because God is big and mysterious and interesting and is worth knowing. This makes me happy.

When I ran for City Council in Tulsa a couple of years ago, I did so with what I have come to understand is a ridiculous idealism, which is, sadly, my typical way. I tend to look ahead always, even at the expense of the present day, and I tend to see that future as glorious and bright.  I also tend to over-estimate my abilities and my impact. The worst of it is, I assume people will like my ideas and will be completely open to them if I can just explain myself. As you can imagine, this sets me up for a constant string of awkward disappointments and frustrations, which I am learning to accept as an inevitable part of being me. It is frustrating to see such great potential in anything and to feel like I know how to help it achieve that potential, and then learn that others don’t share my views or even like the idea of the outcomes I’m working towards. This is not unique to me. I understand that. It’s called being a human. It’s a part of growing up. I work through these same issues with my boys all the time. We just don’t always get what we want. The world around us will not always think we’re awesome. Learning to live greatly and love life despite that reality is a critical part of being a person who really does make their world better. Being discontented with things as they are, working to change them, and respecting that others have different ideas is life, and it can be a great life.

I remember feeling like I was going to be different. I remember feeling like I would jump into this whole conversation of how to make Tulsa the best it can be and offer some new perspective. I didn’t feel like young, creative, urban minded Tulsans had much of a voice in local government and that I could maybe contribute something important.

I think I must’ve envisioned this singing choir of angels celebrating every word that came out of my mouth at City Hall. I mean seriously! All of these really smart things are being said by this guy! Everyone stop what you’re doing and listen! Hilarious. Really, so funny.

This other thing happens instead. On the Council, we have nine different people, from nine different parts of town. Our vocational backgrounds are diverse. There are men, women, old, young, black white, blue collar, white collar, etc, etc. You get the picture. While we all care about Tulsa and all love it a lot, we’re all loaded with a very different set of passions.

I’m interested in improved public transit, both inside our city and connecting to OKC. I’m interested in creating unique walkable urban commercial districts and in improving and supporting the ones we have. I’m interested in revitalizing our urban core and its surrounding neighborhoods, of promoting the arts and improving the public spaces in our city. I’m interested in making Tulsa an appealing place to visit for out-of-towners and a great place for young creative people to live. I want us preserving existing buildings and filling in our bland surface parking lots with new structures. I want us being responsible with our tax dollars so that my kids can also live in a great city. I’m interested in land use planning and in changing the course of development away from costly sprawl and redirecting at infill on our existing grid. I prefer that we look at new innovations in technology and planning to create a more efficient government and a more impactful approach to public safety instead of just trying the same old approaches. I’m all about investing in Rt. 66 and in developing an identity around that great asset. Get it? I have a set of things I care about. I have these opinions, strong ones, because I’m opinionated. Of course I think these things are hugely important and that if we just focused on this type of thing, we’d set ourselves up for an incredible future. Blah blah blah. “There he goes again…” Some of these issues are also the passions of some of my colleagues, which is nice. It feels good not to be alone. When several of us agree, we can even make things happen, and I think we’ve done some of that. I’ve also had lots of times when I’m all jazzed up about something and everyone else leaves the room. It’s just part of the deal. I think we’re all figuring it out.

But the thing I was most unprepared for was the whole dance between us elected people and the public. It’s funny, because until you’re in the conversation every day, you don’t really know what you don’t know, and as hard as our local media tries, they just aren’t capable in the amount of space or time they’re given to tell the whole story. Mostly, they try to be fair and to present it with no bias, but it’s still far more typical that the public is left to form an opinion about us and the issues on which we’re dealing with very limited info. Because so many Tulsans get their info third hand (like a coworker at a water-cooler), it’s even more diluted by the time it spreads around the community. Also, only about 10% of Tulsans pay any attention at all. That number is probably really high. It may be more like 5%. So we do this job that we think is important, and we’re passionate about it and all of that, and no matter what we do, most people don’t care at all, and many of the ones that care often dehumanize us and disparage us based on what their friend told them about something they read in the paper (and they may have only looked at the pictures and read the headline).

So how do we deal with that? How do I deal with that? I don’t like it at all. I want this educated and engaged public, who trusts the people they elected to represent them with integrity and communicate about the issues openly and honestly. Again, my idealism creeps in. It has occurred to me at several points that the best thing I might be able to offer isn’t my grand opinions about land use planning and walkability, but my accessibility, my understanding of media, and my approachability. Can the guy who owns the pizza shop bridge the gap between the big glass cube of City Hall and the everyday Tulsan, just trying to raise a family and make ends meet and have some fun? Am I assuming too much again? Yes. Am I presuming that people like me again, when they absolutely might not? Probably. Sorry. This is the best I can do. The thing I’ve got to get over is that because I chose to run for this office, when people read things I write or hear things I say now, their attitude is different towards me than it was before. I used to be able to write things like this, being pretty typically me and have people read it with the idea that I was just a regular guy like them who owned a pizza shop and who had a wordpress account. They would generally either like what I wrote or just not care, but it didn’t typically inspire the “who does this guy think he is?” stuff that I do now. I could be honest about my struggles and open about what I was dealing with in life and people identified. We all have those things, right? Somewhere, I didn’t feel comfortable being public anymore. As an elected person, some people want to disagree with me just on principle and don’t see me as a person, but as a politician. I must be doing these things for my own self-interests! I’ve got an agenda, right? I remember putting on my facebook a picture of a truck with a giant rebel flag flapping on a pole that was mounted in the bed of it and making some comment about what a clown that guy was and getting replies about how I shouldn’t have opinions like that as an elected person. People think there’s a certain way I’m supposed to act. If I feel like someone is a racist tool for welding a flag pole into the bed of his jacked up Silverado for the sole purpose of flying his rebel flag around town, I’m not supposed to share that. It’s not becoming of an elected person. Ugh. It was that crap that somehow caused me to just stop being public. I can’t even call a racist ass a racist ass without getting a talking to about propriety and appropriate politician behavior.

So, on top of that, when some things went badly for me last year with the media, I pulled way back. I didn’t want to be so exposed. I stopped assuming that the media was my friend. I even stopped assuming that my facebook “friends” were my friends. People who I liked and trusted in the local media told a very different story to the public about me than what was accurate because it was a better story if I was the bad guy. Of course the public, armed only with the information in front of them, ate it up and formed their opinions based on a 30 second news story and the social media fallout that ensued. I hated it. I felt betrayed. I felt like it wasn’t worth it to do this job. I felt like I was spending time away from my family and working to help Tulsa be great only to be turned into the villain in some weird reality show of local politics…I know. I should be tougher. I should have thick skin. You don’t feel sorry for me. I should’ve known what I was getting in to. Blah blah blah. I do and if I was fake, I’d tell you it didn’t bother me and that I knew what I signed up for and that I’ve got thick skin. Sorry. I’m just a person with feelings.

And then Brady. You might recall. It was the same cycle of limited or inaccurate information, followed by social media and water cooler pontificating about an issue on which everybody felt competent to have an opinion. Really? It’s that simple. Do we change the name, or not? Yes or no? Easy. So this issue of a street renaming turned our city into a national laughing stock and The City Council was at the center. And it’s not like there was nothing to lose. Tulsa’s black community has been kicked in the proverbial teeth for the better part of a century and it was going to happen again, while my white, wealthy constituents sent me shameful emails about if “we give them this, they’ll ask for something else.” Somehow, many in our city felt it better to continue to honor a citizen who knowingly terrorized his neighbors than to do the really simple thing of just changing the street name. I really felt like it should’ve never gotten to be this big public fiasco, but once it got there, the best thing to do was to say to our black neighbors that we can’t begin to understand their hurts or their history, or their feelings, but we get it that they have been hurt and are  hurting and that we’re not okay with honoring one of the symbols of that hurt. I know you probably disagree. That’s fine. Our “solution”, and I use the term loosely, was to rename the street Reconciliation Way, and to change the Brady for whom the street is named to another Brady. I know, it’s lame, and as was intended, this kind of just upset everyone, instead of delighting one side and infuriating the other. I didn’t love it, but I preferred it to the alternative, which was all of this for nothing. Everything stays the same….only it’s worse than that because of what it said to minorities in Tulsa….the same thing they’ve heard for years, that their opinions still don’t matter. The biggest losers in the whole thing were the group of citizens who spent lots of time at City Hall making excellent case after excellent case for a name change, and of course the Tulsa City Council, who had to deal with a terrible issue and had no real way to come out appeasing or looking good to everyone. Mostly, because some of my colleagues felt like they would be forever scorned by their constituents for voting for the name change – an awful commentary on the still awful race relations in Tulsa. My saddest point in 2013 and the only time I’ve ever been ashamed of Tulsa was in reading the countless e-mails from my white neighbors, many who e-mailed me from their fancy, expensive midtown homes to remind me that giving anything to the black community in Tulsa is a slippery slope and that we shouldn’t cave to their request. My heart sinks again just thinking about the audacity. They put that stuff in an e-mail. They called and told me on the phone. They told me in my restaurants. There was no escaping the underlying racism…. some of it was just blatant in your face racism, actually. Gross. It sucked. It still sucks. And you guys don’t know the details, because the local paper, which had an angle, was the only source of information other than TGOV, and nobody has time to watch TGOV.

So I come into 2014 wondering what next. I have to decide if I’m running for office again. I don’t even know if Tulsa wants me in office again. I have to decide how I’m prioritizing my time and running my companies. I have to figure out how to work with a mayor who is, of course, not happy that I publicly supported his opponent, and I have to decide every day just how “out there” I’m going to be. Do I accept interview requests again? Do I blog more? Do I tweet? Oh what to do?

All of this rambling email to say this one basic thing. Here’s what I want to do in 2014. I want to be more open. I want to stop hiding out. I want you to hear at least one person’s inside perspective on what’s happening and why it’s happening. There aren’t very many people left for me to upset that I haven’t already upset by being candid, so I’m going to tell you what I think about what’s going on and am going to beg you to get involved in the conversation. I want to hear from you too. I’m going to have way more town halls, so I can meet you face to face and hear what’s up. I’m going to engage social media much more often and am going to blog here regularly and about every issue that matters….and I’m going to ask you to respond.

If this is my last year on The Council, I’m going to go out in a blaze of glory…wait, there I go again, imagining a much grander outcome than anyone will likely notice. How about this. I’m going to be a better City Councilor. I’m going to be a better business owner and employer. Most importantly, I’m going to be a better dad and husband. I’m going to do all of that while continuing to figure out how I can be a part of helping our great city to achieve its wonderful potential.

Why don’t you join me?

B

P.S. Happy New Year. Hope yours is the best year ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vision?

Posted on November 5, 2012

Those of you in the Tulsa area are likely aware that we’ll be voting on two Tulsa County propositions this Tuesday. Signs are up and the commercials are in heavy circulation. Water coolers all over town are empty from having hosted countless conversations Vision 2 conversations in recent weeks.

As I’ve at times been the media’s poster boy for the “anti-Vision” side, I figure it best to clarify my position in the few days remaining before the vote. I apologize for not doing this sooner. It’s been difficult for me to discern the best approach on this and I fear that I may have done a disservice by not being more vocal through the process. If I would have consented, our local media would have had me on TV and radio every day and I just didn’t want it to be about me. Also, many of the pro-Vision folks are taking it very personally and I’ve been troubled by the damage my opposition has caused to some those relationships.

Sadly, most people don’t even know the details about the propositions and will be voting with the TV commercials as their primary info source…and here we are, facing something that will affect the future of our city… My children will pay this tax as adults. I feel like I owe it to them to defend our great city and her beautiful potential.

Many of you who have supported me in the past have been confused to learn of my opposition. You’ve come to believe that I love Tulsa and passionate about its progress. Many of you know that I’m not some anti-tax, negative naysayer and that I was a proud supporter of Vision 2025. How could someone like me, who wants so badly for Tulsa to achieve its potential, possibly vote against a package like this?

I’ll tell you.

Here goes.

1. The deal-closing fund.  (My biggest issue with it.)

  • The deal-closing fund is uncapped. Both parts of the proposition that address the airport have caps, which means any excess collections automatically roll into the deal closing fund. The estimates the Vision2 folks are putting out there have that deal-closing fund at around 53 million. That estimate assumes that the years from 2017-2029 will be exactly like 2012 financially. That’s a ridiculous way to estimate that. Even assuming that a rate of inflation similar to what we’ve had over the last 12 years (remember that there was a recession or two in there) puts that deal-closing fund at an estimated 170 plus million dollars…which is a ton of money.
  • I worry that the way they are planning to administer the deal-closing fund carries the strong potential to leave Tulsa underrepresented. The proposed make-up of the allocation board calls for area mayors, County Commissioners, and the Mayor of Tulsa. Theoretically, this board ends up being Tulsa against the suburbs; an all to common situation these days…and Tulsa loses in this scenario. As the city of Tulsa makes up the majority of the people in the area, it seems odd to me that suburban mayors (most of whom represent fewer people than I do) would be so well represented by comparison. Just so I’m clear, I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a voice, but it seems like the representation should be proportionate.
  • I think throwing our hat in the “deal closing game” with other cities shows no leadership, creativity or vision. We’re late to the party and The Chamber is basically making the case that we should do it because other cities are doing it. I’d love to see us thinking of things that others aren’t doing. Tulsa should be leading, not following Wichita, Little Rock, Omaha and Oklahoma City. I’m not at all inspired by “catching up” to those guys. I think we have a real opportunity to do something bold with our capital project packages…I hate it that we’re doing something so utterly predictable.
  • Trying to grow our city’s employment base by paying companies to come here (or buying or building things for them), ensures that we’ll attract the kind of companies who can be bought. I’m just not into building Tulsa’s economic future on the backs of companies we lured here with money. Better to meet a nice girl and settle down than to…pay for one…right? I’d rather see us be the best city in the world to start a business, grow a company, raise a family, etc. There are things we could be doing to grow new industries, support small business development, inspire entrepreneurship, etc., and we won’t have to worry about those folks packing up and leaving for the highest bidding community because they have roots here.
  • Last point on this one: Does it bother anyone else that our area leadership seems to be of the opinion that the only way to grow business in our area is to pay companies to come here? It’s depressing to me…and it’s not the kind of leadership Tulsa deserves. Expect better from the people you elect…and from the people tasked with growing Tulsa’s business community.

2. The airport part.

  • Our facilities at the airport are in disrepair. They’re outdated and in need of some major overhauls. I don’t question that at all and am an advocate for taking some very real steps to improve our facilities. With the unknown situation at American Airlines, I think it’s much more appropriate that we wait to see what happens. There is simply no good reason why we’re voting on this now except that the people who put it together wanted to capitalize on the community concern for job loss and the timing of the presidential election, with the emphasis being on the latter. They stated repeatedly in the two meetings I was in that the consultant said the best chance of passing something like this is in a large election. The reason being, a well-funded campaign over a short period of time can beat unfunded and disorganized opposition if you can pound the lightly informed masses with media in the weeks leading up to the vote. We rushed this whole thing so it could be on the November ballot. Nobody at the airport was pressing for this timeframe. That came straight from The Chamber. We’re talking about locking in a tax for airport improvements, primarily for a company who has a very uncertain future. I’m not worried about them coming out of bankruptcy. I’m sure they will. I’m worried that we have no idea what their future looks like, but we’re talking about investing a quarter of a billion dollars out there just in case. It should wait until we can have an educated conversation with some mutual commitments and joint goals. I don’t like it being done this way….it’s a big limb to go out on.
  • People keep saying that those are our buildings out there and that we’ve failed to maintain them. I want something to be really clear. Our leases with those companies are very light…What I mean is, they either pay almost nothing or very little. In exchange for that sweetheart deal, they are responsible for maintaining the facilities. Moving forward, I’d like to see us employ a strategy that facilitates better maintenance of those properties and holds tenants to some standards. I’m okay with the low rent rate in exchange for maintenance, as long as that’s the deal we all honor. Regardless, these are things that should be worked out after the bankruptcy and with plenty of time to structure the right proposal…not like this…in the dark and in a hurry and with 99% of Tulsans asked to just take The Chamber’s word for it.
  • Spirit and Navistar didn’t even ask for the upgrades. The Chamber asked them to make a list of their needs so that we weren’t just putting American Airlines improvements on a list. While there are some needs at those two plants, they were not considered to be pressing. With all of the things in our community that we could be doing to promote and encourage job growth, investing in facilities for employers who weren’t even asking for it to provide PR cover seems…
  • The bonding expense is expected to be roughly 90 million. Not a joke. The revenue to pay this thing doesn’t even start coming online until 2017. That means we’ll be advance funding it…and accumulating interest for the next four or five years so that we can start making repairs, buying equipment and bribing companies immediately. Would you make that deal? Would anyone you know make that deal? There’s a reason people don’t borrow money and let interest accrue for five years before revenue becomes available to pay the note…because it’s not smart.

Here’s the thing, Tulsa is going to have to stop doing things the same old way if we want to change our current trajectory. We’re heading for population stagnation, economic decline, and a sprawl-driven hollowing out of the core city… (Dire, right?!?) And all of that’s going to happen for the simple (and sad) reason that most of the Baby Boomers are going to get old and die in the next 25-35 years and they haven’t replaced themselves. What I mean is, their children have left and are leaving. Why? Because Tulsa does very little to attract or retain young people. When the Baby Boomers go, they take their money with them and right now we literally can’t afford to lose them. That generation drives the spending in our region and the loss of them will mean very bad things for us. Cities everywhere are starting to realize this and are working to develop more efficiently, build their urban core, create and develop a lifestyle that welcomes young people and develop and promote new industry with a different future in mind. Tulsa, however, seems set to double down on our past instead of appropriately preparing for the future. I’m not suggesting we neglect the important industries we have here, but we owe it to our kids to have a more futurist perspective and to “diversify our portfolio” a bit today while we have the chance. Mostly, I just think we can do better…and that we should do better.

Please feel free to follow up for clarification where I inevitably failed to be clear. I’ll post about the Proposition 2 “way of life” part tomorrow if I have time.

in·vo·ca·tion

Posted on August 30, 2012

in·vo·ca·tion noun.[in-vuh-key-shuhn] 2. any petitioning or supplication for help or aid.

Oddly in a time when so many interesting things are happening in Tulsa and in the political world around us, one topic has risen to the top. No, it’s not the GOP Convention. It’s not the presidential race. It’s not even Vision 2 (which I’ll address in a post soon). The topic that has risen to the top of the list is that of the prayer at tonight’s City Council meeting, which is to be performed by an atheist. After getting several phone calls and e-mails regarding this issue, I felt it appropriate to respond to the public consternation.

  1. Christianity does NOT need, should not need, and has never needed to be supported by government. It has survived thousands of years of events much worse than this one. It is my humble opinion that its survival as a religion is more greatly impacted by those within the faith who pervert its ideologies and misrepresent its namesake than by atheists or governments.
  2. This issue tonight is not the first time that government has felt compelled to defend one religion or religious belief over another. It has been tried in the past and it has never worked. In fact, history shows us the repeated failure of that experiment. Constantine may have had the best of intentions, but his results didn’t match his desires.
  3. We do not get to have it both ways. We don’t get to ask government in one breath to respect our privacy and defend our freedoms, while also asking them to defend our particular religious ideologies. Simply, I believe it is acceptable for government to acknowledge that the people who grant its authority are, in fact, religious. It is acceptable when government allows for invocations at meetings, but not at all acceptable for government to regulate which religions are relevant.
  4. The decision regarding prayer at Council meetings is a simple one. We can either do away with invocations at meetings, or we can allow others with views different from our own to show up on occasion and offer a petition of prayer to whomever they see fit. There is no acceptable middle ground on this issue.
  5. I am most appalled with the “Christian” response to this event by several in our community. I believe that the actions and words of Jesus are very clear in Christian scripture. Christians, or followers of Christ, confuse the world around them when they acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny him by their actions, especially those actions born in anger. I’m no pastor, but I’m comfortable suggesting that Jesus would love this man, care for his hurts, and seek to build a relationship with him, not to admonish him for his disbelief. I’m hopeful that the Christians in our community and everywhere will remember that Jesus didn’t choose to impact the world with his yelling and his anger, but with his compassion and his love. The lone scriptural example of Jesus reacting in anger was associated with those who professed to represent God, yet adulterated the faith for their own interests. I certainly do not want to be guilty of that.

I disagree with tonight’s speaker’s assessment of God (I think there is a God, he doesn’t), but I accept his challenge to “open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person.” As a man, I do respect his worth, as a Christian, I love him as my neighbor, and as a public government official, elected to represent my fellow Tulsans, I respect his right to offer a prayer at a City Council meeting.

Thank you,

Blake

What the heck are you thinking?

Posted on November 8, 2011

Several months ago, I sat on my couch, frustrated by my inability to get out and about. A large snow storm had forced Tulsa to stay inside and I was getting a nasty case of cabin fever. As I read through articles in The Tulsa World, I was frustrated to learn of yet another instance of disrespect and negative grandstanding from some of our elected leaders. There was a discussion to be had about the best ways to clear our streets, but instead of coming together to solve problems that affected our way of life, they took shots at each other and took advantage of yet another opportunity to fight

This wasn’t new, it was just the latest in a series of “back and forths” between The Mayor’s office and the Council. The public was forced to read between the lines of the local paper to try to determine just who was at fault. Some picked sides. Some posted on message boards and TulsaWorld.com comment sections. Some stopped caring altogether. Some blogged. Some had meetings. Regardless, in the midst of our freezing temperatures outside, the public was getting hot and it was only a matter of time until the boiling over began.

Out of that frustration, some things came to life. Tulsa+, a non political non-profit was formed to try to balance all the negative with reminders of all of the good in Tulsa. Several political action committees were formed to influence change and a new slate of would be City Councilors threw their hats in the ring. I chose to run. I couldn’t sit by and watch when I felt like I could help.

In the time since, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, made at least as many phone calls, attended block parties and debates, and worked daily to earn the votes of my District 4 neighbors.

The question I’ve been asked the most? It’s not about our charter changes. It’s not about our trash service. It’s not about PLANiTULSA. The questions I get asked the most: “What the heck are you thinking? Why on earth would you want to be a City Councilor?”

I’ll tell you why. When my family moved to Tulsa (12th and Winston Ave) from Coweta in the early 90′s, I thought it was the greatest place in the world. Having lived in Fairfax, Foyil, and Coweta, I only knew the rural life. I didn’t know multi-story buildings and stoplights. I know of barn parties and pot luck lunches and ice cream socials. I know of hay mazes and cow chips. Tulsa might as well have been New York. I remember being mystified by The Camelot hotel, which was already vacant at the time. What must be inside that magical castle in the big city? Before, I had only known of it as we drove through Tulsa on the way to visit my grandparents in Midwest City.

I grew up in midtown, loving every minute of it. I ate breakfast at Tally’s and played in Braden Park. I used to walk up 11th street and hang out in the video store at 11th and Vandalia and play around in the antique stores and over the years, I grew to love this city even more, especially it’s older part of town. I loved the architecture, the mature trees, and its parks. More than that, I loved its potential. Even as a kid, I often dreamed of what buildings and streets could look like.

Later, my parents moved us to South Tulsa. I commuted back to Nathan Hale High School and spent my free time galavanting around a mostly empty downtown. One of my favorite haunts was The Eclipse, an all ages dive on 6th St. in The Pearl District.

I even chose to work at Spaghetti Warehouse, one of downtown’s only restaurants, nearly 12 miles away from 71st Street’s string of restaurants in my own back yard. I wanted to be a part of the city. I loved it. I remember getting off of work and driving around downtown Tulsa with the top of my Jeep down, dreaming of what it could be if people just cared to bring it back to life. I used to sneak in to the old Tribune building and imagine new uses for it (don’t tell anybody). I was delighted when I learned that it would be lofts apartments. It meant there was hope.

Over the years, I traveled around, changed jobs a few times, lived in different parts of town (I’ve lived in Districts 2,4,5,7, and 8), and met the girl of my dreams. One thing never changed. I always loved Tulsa. I always wanted it to be the best it could be.

As I got older, I was able to be an active part of helping my city to achieve its potential. It’s my dream come true. I’m the luckiest guy you know. I live my boyhood dreams on the streets of downtown Tulsa every day. I get to create for a living. I get to invest my time, money, and energy in to the people and places of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

So you ask, “Why in the world would I want to run for  City Council?” It’s easy. I’m in love with Tulsa. I want it to be the greatest city in the world. I want to help make it that way. It’s not a burden. It would be my pleasure.

Today, you can help. You can vote for me to represent you, my friends and neighbors, at City Hall. If you haven’t voted yet, please vote for me. I won’t let you down. I’ll care as much as I always have and I’ll pour my heart in to it the way I have my restaurants.

Thanks for reading and thanks for caring.

Blake

Qualifications: A Response to Ken Brune’s Mail

Posted on November 5, 2011

Ken Brune and I have made the full circuit of debates and forums together in recent weeks. We’ve visited neighborhood groups, service clubs, a church, a radio station, and some TV stations. We’ve answered the same basic questions several times. The question about how well we can get along often comes up. In a recent debate with the Kiwanis Club, a question was asked about how we hope to resolve these issues. That debate and our answers to one question in particular has lead to a disappointing mischaracterization in a mail piece sent by Mr. Brune. I think it’s important that voters know the context surrounding the quote he chose to use on his mailer. Here’s a link to that Kiwanis debate. It’s at about 20:50. Here’s the typed out version for your viewing pleasure.

MODERATOR: “The current City Council and Mayor Bartlett have had their struggles in management style. After next month’s election the Council will be new, but the mayor will be old (No offense Mayor Bartlett). What should be done, if anything, to smooth out the relationship rough spots?”

KEN BRUNE: “I think the council should sit down with the mayor and discuss what the mayor would like to achieve and the mayor should discuss what the council would like to achieve. Part of my background, as mentioned, over long term, has been to negotiate and to mediate. I think that if we had a proper time to visit with one another, we could resolve any of these difficulties.”

ME: “Look, you’re not electing people to city hall to get along. You’re electing them, in fact, to argue. I think what we’re seeing there is that the majority of the issues and the majority of the disagreements have very little to do with advancement of the city, or with making this a better place. They’ve become personal. You’re putting nine people in a room from nine different parts of town, nine different ways of life, nine different backgrounds. They better disagree, and frankly, the reason we have a mayor balanced with the council is so they can check each other. So yes, I think as the leader, it’s the mayor’s responsibility, in many aspects, to present the big broad vision, so that everyone joins under that umbrella of hope for the city.

When it comes to the day to day politics, it’s naive to expect that those ten people will always get along. That’s where I think you elect the personalities to the conversation who can pursue the bigger picture at all costs and put the petty things behind us and work tirelessly on advancing the city.”

Mr. Brune chose to pull the part of my answer where I used the word “argue” out of context and use it in a mail piece that arrived today, along with a list of our experience and qualifications. This is clearly an effort to paint me as an inexperienced candidate who doesn’t value harmony and compromise and to distinguish himself as the experienced candidate who will “get along” with others. He’s playing off of the community’s frustration with our current representatives who are often accused (whether right or wrong) of being difficult and childish. Naturally, if one reads the whole answer or listens to the audio on KWGS, they’ll find that I’m as against that negative activity and lack of progress as anyone. They’ll also find Mr. Brune’s naive assertion that the reason for our current discord is The Mayor and The Council’s inability to find a “proper time” to “visit” or share their goals with each other. Ask anyone at City Hall if they think that’s an accurate assessment or if it’s just political speak. I know what they’ll say, because I’ve been there engaged in the process. I’ve been participating. I’ve been at City Hall in several different capacities, building relationships and gaining my own relevant “experience.”

It’s not uncommon in races like these for a candidate to send a last second mail piece mischaracterizing his opponent, as there’s little time for the opponent to respond and no time to respond with a competing mailer. Our last mail piece had to be finished yesterday by noon in order to go out before Tuesday. You’ll find when you get it in the mail that I’ve chosen not to go after Mr. Brune with disingenuous statements in my mail piece, but to let my record stand on its own. I’m optimistic that voters will appreciate that I’ve insisted on running a positive and honest campaign. I’ve felt like it will help serve as an indicator of what type of behavior they can expect from me should I be elected.

Mr. Brune knew exactly what he was doing when he prepared the piece. I explained my statement in detail on the comments section of the Tulsa World article. Here is a link to that article. My comments are near the bottom of the page right now. This has been posted online since October 25th. Also, Mr. Brune heard me explain this in detail at last week’s debate at The Unitarian Church, yet he still chose to use the quote, knowing that it was not an accurate representation of my actual sentiments. This is a dishonest political tactic, and I’m responding in this way because it’s one of the only ways I have to correct what’s being done.

I’m disappointed in Mr. Brune’s decision to send the mail piece. Our campaign had thus far been open and honest and while we have both been actively campaigning for the position, our race hasn’t included mischaracterizations of one another, or mail pieces targeted at our opponent. In addition to placing a quote from me on the mail piece that Mr. Brune knows is taken out of context, he has also included a list of my qualifications compared to his. Naturally, he has chosen to leave items off of my list, including companies that I own. He’s also chosen wording designed to highlight shortcomings and underplay successes, while listing 40 years worth of boards on which he’s served and jobs he’s held. I hope that in 30 something years, when I’m Mr. Brune’s age, I’ll also have a lifetime of service on boards. He’s chosen to use his age as his distinguishing trait. Naturally, I’m optimistic that voters will decide that age is not the lone qualifier for political office. Our council has had “experienced” people on it since its beginnings. They’ve not always proven to have been our best.

In spite of these last minute tactics, I’m confident that my record stands on its own. While my resume doesn’t include 40 plus years of experience, I believe that my adult life includes plenty of relevant and impressive qualifiers. While it’s awkward to list my own accomplishments in this way, I’ll do it for the sake of the conversation. By the time I turn 34, I will have created nine companies who between them employ 200 Tulsans and generate six million dollars a year in sales. I will have produced a full length motion picture. I will have opened downtown’s first grocery store in The Brady District. I will have announced the location of our large downtown movie theater project. I will have been a part of revitalizing downtown Tulsa and The Pearl District. Furthermore, my companies and I will have donated tens of thousands of dollars to local non-profits, served on a litany of boards, and won numerous honors and awards for promoting and improving Tulsa. I’m very fortunate to have the life I have. I get to pursue my dreams every day alongside the most wonderful employees I could ever ask for and I get to work to make the city I love the greatest in the world. I’m not in my sixties, but that doesn’t mean I’m not experienced enough to serve my city as a City Councilor.

If I’m elected, you can count on me. You can count on me to debate on your behalf, while shooting straight and letting everyone know where I’m coming from. You can count on me to work hard for you and defend your interests. You can count on me to pursue effective compromise at City Hall and to do there what I do in my private life: solve problems, be creative, encourage people to achieve their potential, and expect great things from the city I love so much.

I want a City Councilor who celebrates and supports local entrepreneurs, not one who won his seat by downplaying their accomplishments. We need elected leaders who will work to inspire others to create new businesses, experiences and jobs for our citizens, not ones who take shots at them and mischaracterize their intent. We need a Councilor who will represent us, not misrepresent us.

Please vote for me on Nov 8th.

Blake


 

My Thoughts on Tulsa’s Charter Change Proposals

Posted on October 19, 2011

In the first of my weekly blog posts on the issues, I’ve decided to tackle the question I get asked the most on the neighborhood debate/forum circuit. People want to know what the candidates think about the proposed charter changes. Before I get started, I want to remind you all that the only influence I could ever have over this is my individual vote at the polls. These proposals are now set for the voters to decide on the Nov 8th ballot.

Weak Mayor/City Manager Form of Government

The City Council has proposed a Weak Mayor/City Manager Form of government, similar to that which Oklahoma City has. This proposal would give the City Council sole control of the local government and would move the Mayor to what is commonly known as a “weak mayor” position. He or she would no longer have executive authority and would become a member of the Council. The Council would hire a City Manager to run the day to day operations of the city and the office of the Mayor would away from the executive decision making and towards baby kissing and ribbon cutting.

My response to this is pretty quick. I dislike it. I’m against it. I will vote “NO.” I’m not universally against this form of government. It’s clearly working in several other cities. I’m against it for us in Tulsa because I believe it gives too much authority to the Council and removes checks and balances from our local government. The responsibility of running the city is a big one and I’m not confident that we’re capable, under our current conditions, of consistently fielding the type of Council that we’d entrust with running the city. I like our current balance. I’m not convinced that the issues we’ve seen recently have to do with our form of government, but rather, with our people. If we have issues with the way our government is or isn’t working, we should address the personnel.

I think it’s important that we “recruit” for our system. I liken this to football. Growing up in Oklahoma, I was lucky to get to watch Oklahoma’s power running game. OU always had mobile Quarterbacks, run-blocking offensive linemen and fast, strong running backs. Other than Cale Gundy and Troy Aikman (who left for UCLA because he didn’t fit the system), I don’t remember OU recruiting big strong-armed quarterbacks until later in the 90′s. That wasn’t appropriate for their system. When you aren’t getting results, you can change your system, or you can change your personnel. I think we’ve got to try to make the current system work. With a few minor tweaks we can better open it up to the type of personnel we need. I’d start by moving committee meetings to Tuesday afternoons or Thursdays so that regular, working Tulsans have a better chance of fitting it into their schedules. This is not supposed to be a full-time job, no matter what they tell you. It’s supposed to be something that a working person can reasonably do. Moving the schedule around a bit and making some changes in the responsibilities of council staff could really expand our pool of potential candidates, which would mean a more consistent string of better candidates. We should want our brightest and best on the council. We should care enough about our city to expect that our elected officials are impressive…and if we’re going to put all the power in the hands of the Council, we need to be able to demand that they are capable of that charge.

I think it’s important to remember that we’re electing people’s judgment. We’re not electing their time. We want a system in which nine great problem solvers, creative thinkers, and decision makers can be assembled, not the nine people with the most spare time.

The group called “Save Our Tulsa” has also proposed three charter changes.

1. Change elections to non-partisan elections

I like non-partisan elections. The overwhelming majority of the issues facing our city have little to do with partisan politics or even basic partisan values like “bigger government vs smaller government.” I don’t mind the (R) or the (D) existing next to the candidate’s name, should people want to use that as a guide, but I think it’s best to have the top two vote getters in the primary then compete in the general, regardless of political affiliation. It gives the voters time to get to know the best two candidates better and allows for competition in districts that typically slant heavily to one side or the other. It’s not okay that we had districts where all the members of a party didn’t get to vote and it’s not okay that registered Independents only get to vote in the general elections.

2. Change the terms to two years and move election dates to the national election cycle.

I like the two year terms on national election cycles. It will put council elections on the same schedule as the national elections, which will expose them to more voters. A higher voter turn-out should be good for the council elections. The lone downfall is that council races will have to compete with national and state races for attention and funds. I would’ve considered this to be a greater issue before, but after participating in this year’s election, which has gotten very little attention anyway, I’m no longer concerned that the council races will be lost in the shadow of other races. That presumes that they’re in the spotlight without those races, which simply isn’t true.

3. Add three “at large” councilors to the council and move the mayor to the council.

The “at large” councilors is a terrible idea. Adding three at-large councilors to the mix would all but guarantee these things: 1. We’d always have two councilors from District 4, District 9, and District 8. Those three districts are the most politically active, have the most money, and are the most likely to produce these “at large” candidates. I’m a fan of diverse representation and this would diminish the influence of parts of town that already struggle to have a voice. 2. We’d almost always have three people who are well-connected, older Tulsans of means. Older people have been around longer and therefore have had time to make more connections. Nothing builds a Rolodex like time. Running a campaign is expensive. Running a city-wide campaign is even more expensive. This plan would appeal to candidates who have the social connections and financial means to run bigger races. Our pool of potential candidates is already painfully small. Our existing meeting schedule excludes Tulsans who aren’t self-employed, retired, or the spouse of the primary earner. This explains why we’ve had an abundance of retirees and self-employed attorneys on the council. The only regular daytime workers we’ve seen on the council have been self-employed or have worked for rare companies who allow their employees to miss work for their council duties. Don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing against older folks, wealthy people or attorneys, I just don’t think we need to build a system that all but excludes everyone who isn’t one.

Furthermore, the idea of having three people on the Council who want to be the next mayor sounds terrible. We’ve seen what happens when we have Councilors who want to be mayor. Do we really want three people sniping at the Mayor, while sitting next to him?

Some time ago, I was approached by some gentlemen with the Save Our Tulsa group. They had put this plan together and were looking for “young charismatic Tulsans” to champion their cause. I met with them a few times and discussed their plans with them. Ultimately, I chose not to be a part of the initiative because of the “at large” proposal, which I consider a huge mistake.

I don’t need to tell you who the members are. That information is easily found. You’ll now recognize some of their names from the contributor lists of several of the other council candidates and from some e-mails that have circulated, raising funds for my opponents, both in the primary and now in the general.

So, to sum it up…

“No” on the City Manager form of government proposed by the current council.

“Yes” on the non-partisan elections.

“Yes” on the two year terms.

“No” on the at large elections.

If we’re going to have a major overhaul of our city government, it should be done with significant citizen input and a more deliberative and inclusive process. This is too big of a deal to do in this way. The citizen involvement has been almost non-existent.

We’ve got to start standing up for ourselves. There are those in Tulsa that will continue to try to pull the strings of our local government from behind the curtain, and it needs to be made clear that their type of participation is not welcome. When we think about charter changes, we need consider how these plans open us up to unhealthy influence from a select few. We should always pursue policies and structures that allow the general public to have the loudest voice and the best representation over those that favor the elite few. There are those that believe that they know what’s best for Tulsa and that everyone else should just go along with their plans. I say, no thank you. No thank you to your endorsements. No thank you to your political manipulations. No thank you to your pompous assertions that you know what’s best for us. I’ll go on trusting that the people of District 4 will do in the general what they did in the primary. They’ll vote for the candidate who speaks for them. They’ll vote for the candidate who loves his city and believes it can continue to be great without secret deal-making, whisper campaigns, and elitist tinkering. They’ll vote for me.

Next week, I’ll address another issue, so stay tuned.

If you’d like to talk, call me at 918.991.8252

If you’d like a yard sign, e-mail ineedasign@blakeewing.com

If you’d like to donate, visit blakeewing.com/donate

Also, don’t forget to vote on November 8th.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,039 other followers