I'm mad, too, Vince


It was in the late '70s, and every day on KXXO AM 1300, Tulsa's first all news-talk station, you heard this gravelly voice intone, "I'm Vince Sposato, and I'm mad as hell!" -- followed by a minute of commentary on city government. Vince Sposato was a building contractor, a World War II vet, a father and grandfather, but he was known to Tulsans as an activist who wanted to fix what was wrong with city government. He ran seven times, as a Democrat, for streets commissioner, once for water and sewer commissioner. He never won, but he never stopped trying. And through his political efforts, he had, for a time, a daily radio commentary, just like Eddie Chiles. The station put out promotional bumper stickers, and once in a while you may still see a bumper sticker that says, "I'm mad too, Vince!"

The obituary in the Whirled mentioned that in the '60s, "he fought against urban renewal and the taking of people's homes without just compensation." I was thinking of that as I read Ken Neal's tribute to Sposato in Sunday's opinion section. I give Mr. Neal credit for not speaking ill of the dead, instead remembering him as a devoted family man and a colorful political character. Neal goes so far as to say this:

Granted, he was never elected to public office in Tulsa. Perhaps he was a bit too "New York" for Tulsa voters. In retrospect, I suspect that Tulsa missed a good chance to have a top-notch civil servant.

That made me wonder -- it would be a good project for someone with time to browse through microfilms and vertical files at the Central Library -- whether the Whirled had much praise for Sposato when he was actively involved in politics. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he was condemned as an obstructionist, an opponent of progress, because of his opposition to urban renewal.

Although we were of different parties, I honor Vince Sposato as a pioneer "troublemaker", asking questions and challenging assumptions, wanting City Hall to do its job well and for the benefit of all Tulsans. Citizens like Vince Sposato and Betsy Horowitz believed in Tulsa, believed it could be a better place, and wouldn't be satisfied with answers like "it's a done deal" or "we've always done it this way." For their trouble, these early activists were marginalized, treated as targets for ridicule. Rather than answer the concerns they raised, the establishment's response was to focus our attention on something different or eccentric about them to communicate to Tulsans that their concerns didn't deserve serious consideration. The same process continues today with a front-page story (written by a reporter who wasn't at the meeting) devoted to the charge that some of the City Councilors said mean things to the suburban officials who spoke at last Thursday's City Council debate on the Owasso water line.

Today's Reform Alliance councilors could learn a valuable lesson from Vince Sposato's passing: If you want the Whirled to say something nice about you, drop dead.

UPDATE: If anyone out there has audio of one of Vince's commentaries, or any stories about his political campaigns, drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 18, 2004 12:27 AM.

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