As expected, OKC incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett will seek a record fourth term, but he has got plenty of challengers, most notably spinal surgeon and Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid.
Retired businessman Joe “Sarge” Nelson, the last to file for office Friday, and Phil Hughes, owner of Hughes Synergies Co., up the race to four candidates.
But for five months, most local political talk has centered on the Cornett-Shadid match-up heading into the March 4 primary election. In several instances, Cornett and Shadid have taken opposing views on city issues, including a controversial proposal by Shadid to halt funding for the MAPS 3 convention center.
However, Cornett and Shadid agreed on one issue as the two candidates filed for office Jan. 29; both believe the March 4 primary will be critical to OKC’s future.
“I think this is about maintaining the momentum the city has worked extremely hard to obtain, and it won’t last forever. This is a golden age for Oklahoma City, and it doesn’t need to end now,” the mayor said.
Cornett said part of Oklahoma City’s progress should be credited to a strong economy that allowed city officials to strengthen a previously neglected infrastructure that included streets and public safety.
“This (economy) we worked so hard to create has allowed us to reinvest in neighborhoods, police, firefighters, streets and take care of services and amenities that suffered during the ’80s and ’90s during (a period of) deferred maintenance,” Cornett said. “When you see how far Oklahoma City has come, it’s our hope we can keep the momentum going as long as possible.”
Cornett was elected as a city councilman in 2001 and three years later entered an open mayoral race. In 2006, Cornett won reelection with 87 percent of the total vote and claimed his third term in 2010 with a victory over challenger Steve Hunt.
Shadid said the election will provide a blueprint for the future, but for a different reason.
“This will be the first [seriously] contested (mayoral) election in a decade,” Shadid said. “Taxpayers need a thorough discussion of the issues facing the city today. We need debates with all of the candidates involved.”
A group led by Shadid is collecting signatures for an initiative petition that would require voters to decide if funding for the convention center should be halted. So far, the group has 4,000 of the required 6,000 signatures, Shadid said.
The Ward 2 councilman contends the $252 million convention center is not necessary because of a drop in convention attendance nationwide during the last decade and an overabundance of exhibit hall space. Shadid also opposes a convention center headquarters hotel and believes it likely would require a public subsidy of $50 million to $200 million.
Meanwhile, Cornett believes the convention center should not be a campaign issue since voters approved the MAPS 3 penny sales tax in December 2009. However, voters did not approve specific projects.
“I think the voters very much want to move forward and not backward, and we saw that during the considerable debate that occurred in 2009 about the MAPS 3 projects and the consensus-building it took to get those projects named, listed and supported by the council and, ultimately, the voters,” Cornett said.
Shadid, elected to the Ward 2 post in 2011, promotes “maximum transparency” as a component to quality local government, which is a reason he wants to debate Cornett.
“Getting the public involved hasn’t transpired before,” he said. “We need to talk about the issues facing us in 2014. City politics is the one branch of government that impacts our daily lives the most, and people need to be informed about the issues that affect them.”
So far, no debates are scheduled. The mayor, elected for a four-year term, earns $24,000 a year.
If one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the total vote in the primary, the top two will square off in the April 1 general election.