My wife wants a Maria Barnes yard sign

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My wife asked me the other day if we could put a sign in our yard for Maria Barnes, the former Tulsa District 4 city councilor who is seeking to take back that seat.

MariaBarnes.jpgFor my wife, the decision comes down to this: Incumbent councilor Eric Gomez, who defeated Barnes in 2008, had his attorney send a "scary lawyer" letter to neighborhood leader Julie Hall of Who Owns Tulsa?, threatening her with a lawsuit because she exercised her First Amendment rights to criticize an elected official.

And at the heart of Hall's criticism of Gomez was that he (and District 3 Councilor David Patrick) failed to inform nearby neighborhoods of the plan to build a four-story home for the chronically mentally ill and homeless at Admiral and Yale. Even if he truly believed that nothing could be done to stop the Tulsa Housing Authority's plan, it was wrong for Gomez to withhold that information from the neighborhood association, which may have been able to negotiate with THA to mitigate the impact of the facility or would have been able to organize more quickly to fight the plan by legal means. For those two reasons alone, my wife believes that Eric Gomez should be removed from office by the voters.

I agree.

My wife and I have known Maria for over a decade. For a few years, she and I served as vice president and president, respectively, of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. Maria has served many years as president of the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood Association.

When I ran for City Council in 2002, Maria was one of several Democratic neighborhood association leaders who reached across partisan lines to endorse me. We've had many disagreements, but there was never any doubt that her heart was with the concerns of neighborhoods, particularly in the northern, less prosperous part of Midtown, where the investments of homeowners are more vulnerable to bad planning decisions. I was happy to see her elected in 2006 and was sorry to see her lose in 2008.

Over this last City Council term, the perspective of a neighborhood leader hasn't been represented at City Hall. Yes, Eric Gomez has served as a neighborhood association president, but sometime between his narrow defeat in his 2004 challenge to Tom Baker and his 2008 race, his identity as a member of the real estate and development industry overwhelmed his identity as a neighborhood leader.

While Rick Westcott and Jack Henderson are generally supportive of neighborhood concerns, and Bill Christiansen has pushed for better communication with neighborhoods about the zoning process, none of them have the kind of perspective that Maria Barnes, Jim Mautino, and Roscoe Turner bring to the table as people who remember what it was like to stand on the other side of the dais, addressing the planning commission or the council on behalf of their neighbors. They have a gut-level understanding of the effect on a neighborhood when an incompatible development is approved or when the terms of a zoning change or special exception aren't enforced.

During his term of office, Eric Gomez has offered no resistance to bad development plans that set bad precedents. Now we're stuck with an ugly open lot at 14th and Utica where there used to be homes and sturdy brick apartment buildings. Gomez voted to rezone that land to OH -- Office High Intensity. It was a straight rezoning, not a PUD, so (under our outdated zoning code) there are no requirements to encourage compatibility with the investments of neighboring property owners. Gomez accepted the developer's proposal to put development conditions in a covenant, which could only be enforced by the city filing a lawsuit, rather than a PUD, which can be enforced by administrative action.

Gomez voted for the PUD for the Bomasada development on 39th east of Peoria, despite the project's violation of the very recently adopted Brookside Infill Plan, which is officially part of our Comprehensive Plan.

Both projects have been halted by the economy's decline, but we're stuck with the bad zoning decisions regardless, and the precedents they set to put development conditions in hard-to-enforce covenants and to ignore a recently crafted and adopted portion of the Comprehensive Plan.

As I predicted before the 2008 election, the concept of neighborhood conservation districts -- setting customized, clear, and consistently applied standards for compatible infill development in stable, established neighborhoods -- was politically dead as soon as Gomez was elected. The idea is successfully in use in many of our peer cities from coast to coast, including Oklahoma City, which has had neighborhood conservation districts since 1981. Gomez ran against the concept and has not brought it back to the council in any form whatsoever.

During Maria Barnes's term as councilor, I was disappointed with her on a number of issues. I disagreed with her vote against the Council resolution allowing Tulsa police officers to report suspected immigration violations to the feds. She was wrong to support the City Hall move. Although the new building is lovely, it was a bad financial decision that has put the city in an even tougher position than it would be otherwise. And I wish she'd be more understanding of the needs of small merchants in her district, particularly when it comes to the difficult issue of parking. Although I don't agree, I understand why my favorite coffee house is displaying Eric Gomez's yard signs.

Eric is probably more to my liking on fiscal issues, but he isn't close to being a consistent fiscal conservative. He voted for the ballpark assessment, a fee which inequitably hurts distant property owners -- who have fewer resources to pay the assessment -- far beyond any possible benefit from the new stadium. Already the assessment has tipped the scales in favor of the demolition of one downtown building, and I suspect more will follow. If, as seems likely, the assessment is struck down in court, Tulsa's taxpayers may wind up footing the bill through their property taxes, just as they did with the $7.1 million Kathy Taylor - Dewey Bartlett Jr Great Plains Airlines settlement. Eric also believes that the city was right to purchase One Technology Center to be the new City Hall.

His support for both bad moves has earned him substantial financial support from George Kaiser, BOK Financial PAC, Frederic Dorwart, and members of the Dorwart law firm. Ruth Kaiser Nelson, a key supporter of the Admiral & Yale apartments for the long-term mentally ill, has donated to Gomez's campaign. He's received major support from the development lobby, including cash from BuildPAC and RealtorPAC.

(Here is Eric Gomez's pre-primary disclosure, and here is Eric Gomez's pre-general contribution report.)

Gomez has reported a total of $21,700 in contributions above $200 so far this campaign season. Only $2,300 of that amount has come from residents of District 4..

$15,700 of Gomez's contributions over $200 came from individuals. (The rest came from three PACs and Tulsa Spine Hospital LLC.) $4,800 -- less than one-third -- of that amount came from his fellow registered Republicans. So much for the theory that local politics runs along national party lines. $9,900 came from Democrats: George Kaiser, Ruth Kaiser Nelson, Frederic Dorwart, Tamara Wagman, Steven Walton, William C. Jackson, Bob Poe, John Bumgarner (the developer of the 14th and Utica property), Gail Richards, Nancy Feldman, and former Councilor Gary Watts.

In the past, although I haven't been shy about criticizing Republican candidates when they deserve it, I've stopped short of endorsing their opponents.

From 2003 to 2007, I was an elected official in the Tulsa County Republican Party, serving as one of the county's representatives to the State Republican Committee and ex officio as a member of the Tulsa County Central Committee. I was elected both times without opposition. Prior and subsequent to that, I served on the County Executive Committee. I chose not to run for re-election as State Committeeman in 2007, but Chairman Gary Jones's asked me to serve on the Republican State Executive Committee. I decided to resign that post in 2008. I've served many times as chairman of platform and rules committees and have been in charge of counting ballots at county and district conventions.

In every case, my service was at the initiative and request of a party official seeking my skills and counsel. The only party office I now hold is precinct chairman, and, as is true of most Republican precinct chairmen, I hold it by default; no one else wants the job.

As a party official, you're not supposed to endorse an opponent of a Republican candidate. And in the federal and state legislatures, party control matters.

But in local politics, factions on key issues cross party lines. You can see that by looking at campaign disclosures. People who are consistent one-party donors at the national level spread their money across party lines in Tulsa. Why is George Kaiser, a major Obama bundler, contributing to Republican Eric Gomez, Democrat-turned-Independent David Patrick, and Republican Phil Lakin? Why has he been giving money to candidates in Republican council primaries?

Party loyalty seems to be negotiable if you have enough money and influence. Dewey Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Kathy Taylor for re-election didn't deter three former Republican county chairmen from endorsing him in the primary. But in 2006, Chris Medlock's faithful support for the party nominee that he tried to unseat was not reciprocated that fall when he ran for State House. Promises were made, but they were not kept.

In 2002, former City Councilor John Benjamin raised money for my Democratic opponent, Tom Baker, evidently in revenge for my effective opposition to the "It's Tulsa's Time" arena tax in 2000. At Bill LaFortune's 2002 election night watch party, he was heard to say of my defeat, "Payback's a bitch." Certain Republican leaders assured me he would be shunned from party organizations for his disloyalty, but that never happened.

I've endorsed the idea of multipartisan city elections: Allowing candidates to identify, on the ballot, with one or more political organizations, so as to more accurately describe their perspective on local issues. National party affiliation is better than no information at all (as on a non-partisan ballot), but it isn't predictive of what that candidate will do as a mayor or city councilor.

One of the key issues at this point in Tulsa's history, as we move toward adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan, is whether we have land use rules that are fair, clear, consistently applied, and that encourage compatible new development or whether we continue to allow developers to warp those rules and to build in ways that undermine the investments of neighboring property owners. Maria Barnes is on the right side of that issue. Eric Gomez is on the wrong side.

And as my wife noted, Eric Gomez is emphatically on the wrong side of the related issues of (a) keeping homeowners in the dark and (b) threatening to sue someone for criticizing his political actions.

That's reason enough for me to vote for Maria Barnes for District 4 City Councilor and to encourage you to do the same.

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Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: My wife wants a Maria Barnes yard sign.

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Click the "continue reading" link to find links to helpful essays on BatesLine, my endorsements, voter information from the Tulsa County Election Board, multimedia, and candidate questionnaires, all to help you as you get ready to vote (post-dated to r... Read More

Tulsa City Council District 4 is unique in having two seriously contested primaries. In the Democratic primary, I'm pleased to endorse my friend Maria Barnes. I've known Maria Barnes for over a decade, through her role as Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood ... Read More


Ashley said:

So did you end up placing yard signs in your yard??

And I completely agree with your opinion, Eric should be removed from office by the voters...

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 6, 2009 5:03 PM.

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