When former television journalist Mick Cornett stopped covering sports and switched to news in 1996, he had no idea how his life would be transformed.
His way of thinking and priorities changed drastically after the April 19, 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in downtown Oklahoma City. As he went through an admitted “midlife crisis in the ’90s,” Cornett pondered a run at a congressional seat but opted to keep doing television news.
That choice became a life-defining moment.
“My bosses (at KOCO-TV, Channel 5) could see I was changing, and I switched to being a news anchor. I actually wanted to cover the Oklahoma Legislature, but my boss had other ideas.”
Instead, Cornett was sent to cover City Hall.
“It wasn’t my choice, but it changed my life,” he said. “I realized City Hall is where it’s at. I found out quickly that at the City Hall level, a person could really make a difference.”
His foray into a different arena — the world of politics — took awhile, but in 2001, Cornett ran for the Ward 1 Oklahoma City Council seat and won. Three years later, after Mayor Kirk Humphreys resigned to seek a U.S. Senate vacancy, Cornett entered the mayoral race and defeated Jim Tolbert, owner of Full Circle Bookstore, with 57 percent of the vote.
Riding the popularity and success of the original MAPS projects, MAPS for Kids and finally MAPS 3, Cornett swept the next two mayoral races in 2006 and 2010.
Now, Cornett is seeking a record fourth term as OKC’s mayor.
For the 55-year-old Putnam City High School graduate, city politics hasn’t been easy, considering the number of volatile issues he and the city council must consider.
Cornett said public safety is his top priority. A large percentage of the city budget goes to the police and fire departments.
“I don’t know what the magic number is, but I always want one more police officer,” Cornett said in reference to the department’s staffing levels. “We’ve added positions the last two years.”
OKC’s council has authorized funding for 79 new police officers during the last two fiscal years, but none of those positions have been filled, police spokesman Dexter Nelson said. The department has 1,037 officers but is authorized for 1,116.
Cornett contends citizen safety is more important than any other issue in OKC.
“It doesn’t matter how many NBA teams you have in your community; if you don’t feel safe in your own neighborhood, then your quality of life suffers,” he said Saturday during a one-on-one interview with Oklahoma Gazette at his campaign headquarters.
However, public safety unions have endorsed Cornett’s chief mayoral opponent, Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid. “It’s historical,” the mayor said of the union’s decision not to support him.
He said he spent time talking with former Mayor Patience Latting, who passed away in 2013, and she told him horror stories about her struggles with union leaders while she was in office in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“I don’t think the unions have supported a sitting mayor in my lifetime,” Cornett said.
As the March 4 primary election nears, Cornett said his campaign is focusing on the development of all OKC areas with a neighborhood steering committee.
“We have 850 people who live in OKC and are working in their neighborhood to push our message and get people out to vote,” he said.
“People will perceive this race in a lot of ways, but we want to maintain the city’s current direction and keep this going.”
Cornett characterized Shadid’s attempts to halt funding for the MAPS 3 convention center project as “politically motivated.” He had no comment on Shadid’s recently unsealed divorce records, which include information about a marijuana addiction.
“I’ve focused on what we’re doing in our campaign,” the mayor said. “That seems to take up all my time.”
If elected to another term, Cornett said he will continue focusing on public safety, streets, education and the completion of the eight MAPS 3 projects.
Cornett wants voters to know the city’s renaissance, as it’s often referred to, has been a group effort. Much of the growth has come because of the MAPS brand, which is responsible for the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Bricktown Canal, improvements to the Oklahoma River and State Fair Park, new and renovated schools and several other ongoing projects.
“It’s not about me. It’s about how much this generation has accomplished and how far we’ve come by so many people pulling on the same rope.”