Who is John Benjamin?


Saturday's Whirled article (jump page here) covering the missing Councilors (let's call them the Rebel Alliance, just for fun), quoted extensively from some joker named John Benjamin. Here's part of what he was quoted as saying:

"I blame all of this on Councilor Medlock," Benjamin said. "He needs to examine his motive.

"Everyone in the business community has been calling me wanting to know what's going on. This is embarrassing."

Sullivan is a "little hyper, but he's a good guy. He's fair and objective," said Benjamin, who was Sullivan's campaign manager.

"Chris Medlock has been a dissident ever since he got on the council. He's a troublemaker. He does it in front and behind the scenes. I've told him this," Benjamin said.

"He has to learn to be a team player and how to compromise, or he will never be an effective councilor."

Benjamin said the councilors apparently were making a big deal out of the chairmanship, which "is really just a traffic cop at the council meetings. We purposely didn't put a lot of extra power in that position."

Benjamin said he is surprised at Roop's behavior -- "It's not like him to act this way."

He said it was very irresponsible for the council newcomers to get into a fray when they hadn't even attended one meeting or learned the system.

Who is this guy?

He's the former City Councilor for District 7, a consistent foe of homeowners and a consistent shill for the Tulsa Metro Chamber. When I use the term "Chamber Pot", he is the standard by which all others are measured. In 2000, he was the chief spokesman for "It's Tulsa's Time", the warmed-over Tulsa Project rehash that failed at the polls.

In that role, Benjamin attended a meeting of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, promoting a scheme to use eminent domain to tear down a historic working-class neighborhood west of downtown and replace it with an amusement park. He demonstrated his disdain for the hard-working folks of Irving Neighborhood, calling their homes "just a lot of urban-renewal-type houses".

Benjamin is regarded as a RINO by grass-roots Republicans -- a Republican In Name Only. This was made crystal-clear on election night 2002 at the Republican watch party, as recounted in this article from Tulsa Today:

Appointed by Mayor Susan Savage as Chairman of the Convention and Visitors Task Force that proposed the defeated downtown redevelopment project in 2000 (TP2K) John Benjamin is angry still today. Benjamin is attacking the Tulsa spirit of cooperative public policy development and personally targeting all former opposition leaders. ...

In truth, politicians should be friendly to all constituencies for people of good heart work on all sides of each policy debate. It is not in anyone's interest to take politics personally or to act vengefully. But if he had just promoted selected candidates, it would not be news. John Benjamin's greatest sin is that he is willing to destroy his own party to push a personal vendetta even against people who don't deserve the attack.

On election night March 12, John Benjamin accosted City Councilor Sam Roop at Roop's own watch party. Benjamin said, "I put $1,500.00 into [Democrat] Tom Baker's [City Council District 4] campaign. Pay-backs are a bitch."

While Republican Roop was an opposition leader during TP1, he supported the TP2K effort Benjamin chaired. Roop has been a vocal critic of Mayor Susan Savage, but Roop was shocked by Benjamin's remarks saying, "It took awhile for what he said to soak in because I supported and voted for the project in 2000."

Benjamin's assistance to Baker was aimed at defeating me, in revenge for my work as a leader of the opposition to "It's Tulsa Time". His comments to Roop were a not-so-veiled threat that Roop might be next if he stepped out of line.

2002 was also the year Benjamin recruited Randy Sullivan and Bill Christiansen to run for City Council. Benjamin and Sullivan were enjoying drinky-poos in a cozy Aspen hot tub when Benjamin propositioned Sullivan, and Sullivan accepted. Sullivan was going to run against that pesky Todd Huston, who had played a behind-the-scenes role in the defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time". Then Sullivan discovered that he didn't live in Todd Huston's district (doh!), so he ran instead for the open District 7 seat, and Benjamin recruited Bill Christiansen to run against Huston. It is not known whether hot tubs or intoxicating beverages were involved in Benjamin's wooing of Christiansen.

At the heart of John Benjamin's view of government is the idea that debate should be handled behind closed doors, like the old Soviet Politburo, while presenting a unanimous front to the public. That's why he chided Councilor Chris Medlock for voting against his hot tub buddy for Council Chairman in a recent e-mail:

In my opinion, you did the wrong move on your Chairman's vote. If you new a majority was going to put Randy in place, why did you vote negative? It doesn't make sense.

So from Benjamin's point of view, if you don't have enough votes to win, you should vote with the majority so it can be unanimous. Keep the public in the dark. Don't argue the pros and cons in the open.

Benjamin, Sullivan, and their coterie are most comfortable in the realm of the back-room deal, where they can use strong-arm tactics and intimidation, out of sight of the public, to get people to play ball. His idea of persuasion involves getting someone alone in a room and shouting at him until he wilts under the pressure. The pre-meeting is another example of a tactic designed to keep the public in the dark, a violation of the spirit of Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act.

The courageous "no" votes of Medlock and Jim Mautino reveal the importance of open dissent to an informed public. Their willingness to stand alone put the spotlight on the problems with Sullivan's attitude and behavior that make him an unfit councilor, to say nothing of being an unfit chairman. Sullivan's high-handed behavior the following day -- appointing his fellow Whirled-lings as permanent committee chairmen -- appears to have convinced two other councilors that he is unfit for the post, and it appears that the walkout of last Thursday night was an effort to hold open the possibility of a motion to reconsider Sullivan's election as chairman once Roscoe Turner is sworn in.

Tulsans voted overwhelmingly against John Benjamin's oligarchic approach to government. Let's hope our Rebel Alliance can hold together and fulfill our hopes for open and accountable city government.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 12, 2004 12:04 AM.

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