Tulsa, Oklahoma City Mayors Become Allies For A Better Oklahoma
TULSA, Oklahoma - Oklahoma's two largest cities have felt divided for years, in an unspoken fight for being the best. But about a year ago, this tale of two cities has shifted from competitive to cooperative.
"I think both cities in the last 10 or 15 years have found their identities, and it doesn't feel as much like we're trying to beat the other one anymore," said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt.
Holt and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum are keeping the competition on the soccer field - appearing together at a recent Roughnecks versus Energy game at Tulsa's OneOK Field.
When David Holt took office as Oklahoma City's mayor, he was the youngest mayor in the nation of a city over 500,000 people. Bynum is only one year older than Holt.
"The night that Mayor Holt won, you posted on Facebook your congratulations saying 'that you were so excited to establish a closer working dynamic between our cities than Oklahoma has ever seen before,'" asked Terry Hood.
"Yes, we have high expectations," Bynum responded.
Those expectations include a better working relationship between the two largest cities in the state. That part should come easy. Holt and Bynum have been buddies since their wives met at a Washington D.C. Bunco game nearly 20 years ago.
"We were both grunts working on Capitol Hill fresh out of college and our wives actually became really good friends," says Bynum. "If you told us 20 years ago that we would be mayors of the two largest cities in Oklahoma at the same time, I think we both would have said, 'You're crazy or very insightful.'"
"How does your friendship serve the citizens of Tulsa and Oklahoma City," asked Kelly Ogle. "What does it do to enhance our lives?"
"We're going to be positioned to compete, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, if we're supporting each other," Holt responded.
The support is evident on both sides of the turnpike, each showing up to promote milestones and even teaming up to play defense on issues at the State Capitol.
"We're the only state in the nation that doesn't let cities use property tax operations, which makes us overly reliant on sales tax. That endangers us when you go into a downward economic cycle," Bynum said.
Both leaders also believe local communities should have more say in how education is funded. But even though they have similar visions, they appreciate what makes their cities different.
"When you talk about the Thunder or Bricktown or so many things, those are strategies or components of an overall strategy to make Oklahoma City nationally, globally competitive," said Bynum.
Holt added, "Obviously, we admire Gathering Place. That's an amazing amenity, and I joke we're going to have the second with Scissortail Park. We're going to have the second best park in the country. It will just be the second best park in the state."
The two also dream of one day connecting the cities by a high-speed rail.
"I think there have to be ways we can get Tulsans more bought into the fact that what's good for Oklahoma City is good for Tulsa and vice-versa," Bynum said.
And while one mayor wears blue and the other green, they've found common ground - never losing sight of the goal.
"The cities are the chief economic engines of this century, and Oklahoma needs to understand that and value that and try to encourage us to have as much as possible, OK-Tulsa as I like to say," joked Holt. "If we can portray ourselves to the world as a megalopolis to 2.5 million people... there's a lot more power in that."