Two incumbent Oklahoma City Council members will face election challenges from candidates receiving tea party backing — support opponents worry will inject partisanship into a nonpartisan race.
“I can't think of a better way to shake up the politicians than to wrest control of the biggest city in the state from the progressives and liberal's hands,” wrote Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart in the January newsletter posted on the group's website.
Incumbents worry about the partisanship expressed with such proclamations.
“I think one of the advantages that Oklahoma City Council has had is being a nonpartisan operation,” said Councilman Patrick Ryan, who has drawn opposition from tea party-
Councilwoman Meg Salyer, who is being challenged by tea party-backed Adrian Van Manen and 21-year-old Jessica L. Holstein, said nonpartisanship aids in policymaking.
“At the city level, we deal with policy that directly influences our city,” Salyer said. “We don't deal with the kind of social issues that seem to be part of other agendas.”
Hearron and Van Manen said they understand the nonpartisan nature of the city council posts but aren't going to divorce themselves from those who believe as they do.
“It's a nonpartisan position all right, but tell me a person in the country that's a true nonpartisan,” Hearron said. “Given what we've got, I'd rather see the tea party take it over. I'm not part of the tea party takeover of Oklahoma City. But, if you gave me a vote, that's the way I'd vote.”
Van Manen said: “I realize it's a nonpartisan race, but I'm not going to change who I am because it's a nonpartisan race. I'm not a tea party candidate. I'm a nonpartisan candidate, but tea party people and I have a lot of things in common.”
In interviews with The Oklahoman, the candidates said issues such as roads, code enforcement and public safety should be the focus of the city council. All stayed away from what they called partisan social issues.
With one current councilman not running and three council members facing challengers, the historically quiet city council elections could become more raucous.
The candidate filing period for Wards 2, 5, 6 and 8 closed Monday. The primary is set for March 1, with a general election scheduled April 5, if needed. The positions are nonpartisan. Candidates do not declare a party affiliation.
In north central Oklahoma City's Ward 2, where Councilman Sam Bowman is not seeking re-election, six candidates filed for the post.
Councilman Brian Walters will be opposed by David Greenwell, a certified public accountant, in Ward 5, which covers the central section of south Oklahoma City.
In the Sooner Tea Party newsletter, Walters was identified as the only conservative on the council. The tea party will back Walters but has not yet given financial help, Gerhart said.
In central Oklahoma City's Ward 6 and northwest Oklahoma City's Ward 8, the Sooner Tea Party has urged its supporters to rally for candidates Van Manen and Hearron against incumbents Salyer and Ryan. Holstein filed late Monday for the Ward 6 post but could not be reached for comment.
Gerhart said it's the first time the Sooner Tea Party has given support in a municipal race, but it follows a national trend. Gerhart said the support of Van Manen and Hearron is about whom tea partiers believe can do a better job.
“You really can't say the tea party is partisan,” he said. “What we stand for is the Constitution.”
Van Manen and Hearron admit they talk often and have a lot in common but stop short of saying they should be viewed as running together. Both men are members of Windsor Hills Baptist Church. Van Manen is music director at the church, where Sooner Tea Party meetings have been scheduled.
Van Manen and Hearron have similar websites, each giving a nod to the Sooner Tea Party. Van Manen's has a graphic with the phrase “Bring the Tea to OKC.” Hearron's has a graphic with “Sooner Tea Party” in red, white and blue.
The state tea party's political action committee will help fund campaign literature, and members will help with precinct walking, Gerhart said.
“We each have our own campaign,” Van Manen said. “We see each other all the time, and we compare notes, but his campaign is separate from mine.”
Given the similarities of the two candidates and the financial backing of the tea party, Ryan worries about the connections among the two candidates. “I'm a little concerned about the idea of a slate,” he said. “I think that's maybe not the healthiest way to approach city government.”
Ryan said he has some high regard for what the tea party movement has done nationally by bringing attention to debt issues but is not sure it should have a role in city government.
“I'm less understanding of what they think their role in city government should be,” he said. “Right now, we can disagree without being disagreeable, which I think is a real advantage we have on our city council.”
Salyer also worries about preconceived agendas.
“I would express concern about any agenda that doesn't directly focus on making sure that city government runs efficiently, is transparent for its citizens and listens to the voice of the people that live here,” she said.
AT A GLANCE
Candidacy filing closed
Filing closed Monday for those wishing to run for Oklahoma City Council Wards 2, 5, 6 and 8. A two-day period for those wishing to contest a candidacy begins today..
The primary is set for March 1, with a general election scheduled April 5, if needed.
(i) = incumbent