A perception that elected leaders care more about downtown development than neighborhoods may have cost two veteran Oklahoma City Council members their seats.
Voters on Tuesday chose James Greiner, 32, over Gary Marrs in northwest Oklahoma City's Ward 1, while John A. Pettis Jr., 30, beat Ronald “Skip” Kelly in northeast's Ward 7.
Results in both runoff races were decisive. Greiner won 57.1 percent of the vote against a three-term incumbent; Pettis won 61.7 percent to defeat Kelly, who served two terms.
The $777 million, 10-year MAPS 3 construction program is heavily weighted toward downtown, and residents in outlying areas wonder “when is some of this going to trickle out to us,” said Pete White, who represents southeast's Ward 4 on the council.
With $600 million in public money being discussed to complete a downtown convention center and hotel complex, White said the election results were no shock to him.
“If they don't see that it's trickling out to them, it's going to be hard for me to convince them that another $600 million spent downtown is going to be good for them,” he said. “I believe that's the perception, that we've lost our balance.”
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) poured $10,000 into the election — $5,000 backing Marrs and $5,000 for Pettis. A complicating factor was the pending drunken driving charges against Kelly, who FOP President John George said had been a strong supporter of law enforcement.
“With his legal problems, it would have been hard for a police organization to endorse him,” said George, who's been an Oklahoma City police officer for about 22 years.
Still, George said, it appeared voters in both sections of the city were ready for change. Concerns about how neighborhoods benefit from the millions in public spending figured into it, he said.
“Everybody has the impression that everything's related to downtown and they just want something different,” George said.
Pettis said Wednesday night that he wants to see MAPS projects progress but, “I would like some of those resources to be put into Ward 7.”
The city needs more police officers — the No. 1 priority of the FOP — and an expanded bus system with evening and Sunday service, Pettis said.
He said he centered his campaign on making sure Ward 7 “gets its fair share.”
The election results should prompt an assessment, said Councilman Ed Shadid.
“I think any time two incumbents lose by such decisive margins, it should be an inducement for some introspection on the part of the council as to the will of the people,” said Shadid, who is in his first term representing north-central Oklahoma City's Ward 2.
Shadid has indicated in a memo to potential consultants his interest in running for mayor in 2014.
Elected leaders would do well to add police officers, finish the MAPS sidewalk program that directly benefits neighborhoods and fix the public transit system, said White, a longtime council member who ran unopposed and will start a new four-year term next week.
“I do think there's a kind of sense of unrest,” White said.