NORMAN — Three candidates with diverse backgrounds are vying for the post of Norman mayor. Voters will decide April 2 between incumbent Cindy Rosenthal and challengers Tom Sherman and David Kempf.
Rosenthal, 62, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, is running for a third three-year term.
Sherman, 67, a retired banker, is controller for Fowler Holding Co. Born and raised in Purcell, he moved to Norman in 1992. He is past chairman of the Norman Chamber of Commerce.
Kempf, 51, owns a small computer software company. He was raised in Kansas and has lived in Norman since 1991.
The candidates have sparred at a public forum and challenged each other's stances on a number of issues.
In campaign mailers, Sherman accused Rosenthal of failed leadership and implied she was responsible for a number of businesses leaving the city, as well as “rejecting” the Warren Theatres' location in Norman.
The mailers resulted in a response from Bill Warren, owner of the Warren Theatres, who said he made the announcement that he would build the $30 million theater in Moore in 2005, two years before Rosenthal took office.
Warren said he never approached the city of Norman about building his theater there. The existing Hollywood Theaters in Norman was a prohibitive factor against choosing Norman, he said.
A mailer that listed Native Roots Market as one of several businesses that has left Norman during Rosenthal's tenure drew a response from owners Sara Kaplan and Matt Runkle.
The relocation of their business to downtown Oklahoma City “had absolutely nothing to do with Mayor Rosenthal,” both of them said.
In a posting on Facebook, the two said they neither endorsed nor approved of their business name being used on Sherman's mailer and that it left a false impression that their relocation had something to do with Rosenthal.
Sherman said he did not mean to imply Rosenthal caused businesses to leave.
“If I had it to do over again, I probably would have worded those fliers differently. I am a businessman, not a politician,” he said.
“I believe Norman has a reputation of not being business-friendly. It's not something the mayor created, but she hasn't done more to fix the problem, either,” Sherman said. “I feel I have the experience and business skills to not only keep businesses in Norman but to bring new ones to our community to better fund our government.”
Rosenthal said the city weathered bad economic times under her leadership “better than most.”
“While other cities were cutting services, laying off employees and going into debt, Norman passed a balanced budget, suffered no layoffs, kept the highest bond rating and started the first-ever Rainy Day Fund to address emergencies,” she said.
Norman is an example to other cities in the region, Rosenthal said, “in its community policing policies, its economic growth and its progressive city management.”
Under her leadership, she said, “I have involved more citizens than ever to help address our long-term issues and ensure our future services.”
Kempf is running on a platform of protecting personal liberties and property rights.
“I want to take residential rezoning changes out of the hands of the city government, and amend the city charter to require a super majority of affected neighborhood residents to approve a zoning change,” he said.
If elected, Kempf said, he would focus on the essential services the city is contracted to supply. He wants to improve streets, water supply, sewage treatment and trash pickup, as well as remove an excessive number of speed bumps in the city.
“I'd like to become business and developer friendly at every level of government, and make Norman hospitable to every business, especially the ones already here,” he said.
Each candidate was asked what he or she considered the most important issue facing Norman:
Rosenthal: “My top priority is a comprehensive solution to our water issues. I am fully engaged in helping our community ensure safe, clean and adequate water supplies for residents now and in the future.”
Sherman: “Water has got to be the No. 1 issue, both the immediate problem we are facing with the drought, and a long-term solution to the city's water needs.”
Kempf: “I seek to defend the inalienable right of every individual to exercise and enjoy the freedom and liberty that has been graciously bestowed upon him or her, not by any other man or by government, but by the Creator.”