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