Oklahoma City celebrates its birthday every April 22, but this year the date will stand out more than usual. It’s the 125th anniversary of the city’s founding.
Next month’s observance and Tuesday’s municipal election prompted the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber to spotlight some paragons among the 34 men and one woman who have served this city as mayor.
The city had 24 mayors in its first 50 years, a turnover rate contrasted by Mick Cornett’s bid to become the first four-term mayor in history. More important than tenure is the quality of leadership the best mayors have offered.
It began with W.J. Gault (1890-92), a businessman who participated in the 1889 Land Run. He promoted the building of an east-west railroad through the city. Edward Overholser (1915-18) led the creation of the first municipal reservoir. Robert A. Hefner (1939-47) was instrumental in attracting what would later become Tinker Air Force Base.
Allen Street (1947-59) served during the time when a growing and thirsty city looked to faraway Lake Atoka as a source for a future water supply. James H. Norick (1959-63 and 1967-71) was the first mayor who was born in the city. His administration oversaw construction of a 100-mile water pipeline.
Patience Latting (1971-83) reigned during the time the Myriad Gardens and Myriad (now Cox) Convention Center were built and the downtown skyline was full of construction cranes. Ronald J. Norick (1987-98) led the effort to pass MAPS, which improved the city’s fortunes and image dramatically.
Kirk Humphreys (1998-2003) led the charge for MAPS for Kids, an innovative city-school district partnership. Cornett succeeded Humphreys and has continued in the bold, visionary vein of the mayoral giants noted above.
Having 35 mayors in 125 years works out to one mayor every 3.57 years. What’s worked out for Oklahoma City is the stature and leadership that Gault, Overholser, Hefner, Street, the Noricks, Latting, Humphreys and Cornett have brought to City Hall.