Setting up a strawman


Mayor LaFortune opened a new front this morning in the PR offensive against the City Council's Reform Alliance. It took the form of a news story that ran at least once an hour on KRMG. The story was reported like this in the 10 pm newscast:

Some City Hall observers believe continuing opposition to Vision 2025 is the real reason behind feuding on the Tulsa Council. If that's true Mayor LaFortune has a warning for those who may have that agenda: "From their perspective, they should be careful in terms of any kind of roadblocks to 2025 implementation, because within the city of Tulsa two of the propositions passed by 65%, and that is a mandate and a supermajority, and the other two propositions passed by 62%." Recent disputes are pitting one faction against another and against the Mayor on issues from appointments to annexation.

This is toned down considerably from the first version I heard during KRMG's noon newscast. (Sorry, KFAQ, but I can't stand Bill O'Reilly.) The original version used the term "Gang of Five" -- the Tulsa Whirled's term for the Reform Alliance -- and quoted these unnamed observers as saying that four of these five councilors opposed all or part of Vision 2025 at one time or another.

It seemed very odd to me that KRMG would go to the Mayor for a soundbite reaction to a concern raised by anonymous City Hall observers. It also seemed odd that he would have a well-rehearsed answer to this off-the-wall question. Clearly the point of the story is to create an association in the minds of those who hear it, to plant the idea in the listener's mind that behind every debate, behind every difference of opinion at City Hall -- behind the airport investigation and the disputes over northward annexation, extending water lines, reappointments to trust boards, and allocation of Federal block grant funds -- lurks a secret scheme to sabotage Vision 2025.

I learned later that the Mayor had been at some Chamber-related event and took questions. Someone (don't know who, as I write this) made some comments akin to those reported in the story, and the Mayor had a ready response. It has all the hallmarks of a planted question and manufactured news, and I expect there will be a story in tomorrow's Whirled, followed by an another hysterical editorial in Wednesday's Whirled.

I suspect that the PR flacks running this coordinated assault have finally figured out that Tulsans admire councilors who do their job and ask tough questions on behalf of their constituents ("meddle," in the Whirled's view). So on to the next attack. Vision 2025 is popular, they must be thinking, so let's create the impression that these councilors are out to derail Tulsa's express train to prosperity. I suspect they are using focus groups and polls to see which accusations will do the most damage to the Reform Alliance.

The assertion which is the foundation of this story -- that four of the five Reform Alliance councilors opposed all or part of Vision 2025 at one time or another -- is so broad as to be meaningless, as it would include anyone who publicly expressed, for example, a moment's doubt about the wisdom of the $350 million subsidy proposed for Boeing or the value of building new swimming pools when we can't open the pools we already have.

Of the Reform Alliance, only Sam Roop was the only one publicly and uncritically supportive of the entire package. Chris Medlock supported propositions 2, 3, and 4. Medlock opposed the Boeing proposition -- which didn't come to fruition anyway -- and expressed concern only about matters of oversight and the handling of money with both City and County involved. He is also concerned that, as key decisions are made about City of Tulsa Vision projects, that the elected representatives of the people, not the unelected advisory committees, have the final say.

Jack Henderson started out in opposition, but ultimately supported the entire package. I don't know where Roscoe Turner and Jim Mautino stood -- they weren't elected officials when the package was before the voters, and they weren't involved publicly in the debate. By the time the election came along, the debate and election was in the past. I do know that they are very concerned about infrastructure problems in their underserved districts, and I suspect that they would place basic infrastructure well ahead of lifestyle amenities on the city priority list. Whatever concerns these councilors may have about the projects and their implementation, everything points to a desire on their part to make these projects successful at accomplishing their purpose of reviving Tulsa's economic prospects.

The notion that someone who opposed part or even all of Vision 2025 would work to frustrate its completion is nonsense, unless you buy into the paranoid notion that those who opposed Vision 2025 hate our city and want to see it die. (For those who do buy into that, you might want to make yourself a tinfoil hat for protection against mind-control rays.)

As a spokesman for the opposition to Vision 2025, I think I am qualified to speak on this matter. We didn't oppose Vision 2025 because we opposed the individual projects per se -- if we could have had them without raising taxes and without raising government operating expenses, our objections would disappear. We opposed Vision 2025 because we believed (and still believe) that raising sales taxes is not the right way to grow the economy; because we believed that the projects would not solve our short term jobs problem nor lay a foundation for future prosperity; because we believed that public improvements should be funded within existing revenue streams, as existing sales taxes and bond issues expired; because we were concerned that a new arena would be a drain on the public treasury, not a boon; because we oppose favoring certain companies with hundreds of millions of dollars while neglecting the needs of homegrown small businesses; because we think it unwise to put entertainment and leisure facilities ahead of basic infrastructure and public safety.

Now that the tax has passed and all but the Boeing part has gone into effect, those of us who opposed Vision 2025 are committed to making sure that the projects are built as promised, that there is adequate oversight on how the money is spent and managed, that Vision 2025 contracts aren't distributed based on political favoritism, but based on who can provide the best value to the taxpayer. I don't think the arena will fix downtown, but I made suggestions on places to put it that would create more synergy with developments in Brady Heights and the Blue Dome District, and I am pleased that a world-class architect was chosen to design the facility.

In the same spirit, the Council's Reform Alliance is simply concerned that what Tulsa city government does is done right, for the benefit of all Tulsans, not just a favored few. Why would the Mayor, the Cockroach Caucus, or the Tulsa Whirled have a problem with that?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 16, 2004 11:34 PM.

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