The close relationship between Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has helped unify the two cities.
The city leaders met up again recently to watch the OKC Energy take on the Tulsa Roughnecks, this time in Oklahoma City. We caught up with them over dinner before the game, to find out the impact the two are making in their perspective cities.
On Packard's rooftop restaurant in Oklahoma City, the leaders of Oklahoma's two largest cities and their families break bread. Sharing laughs and stories, including what it's like to be wives of two mayors.
"If someone hurts someone you love, you have a harder time forgiving them," said Susan Bynum, Mayor Bynum's wife. "There's a lot of prayer involved."
"I'm from Philly, so if they say anything bad, then you have your news story," said Rachel Holt, Mayor Holt's wife.
Spending time together has become commonplace for Holt and Bynum since the two took office, meeting and talking often to update each other on their vision for Oklahoma City and Tulsa. So much, even their kids have an opinion on that. When asked what their favorite places were in each city, Gathering Place, Mother Road Park, Bricktown and the river canal were shouted out. It's these types of improvements that have kept both mayors busy, especially Mayor Holt, as he shores up the final MAPS3 projects including Scissortail Park.
"We had to invest in our quality of life, just like fun stuff. We were dying for lack of things to do in this city and it seems superficial, but it was really an existential crisis for us," Mayor Holt said.
That idea of giving taxpayers an opportunity to invest in their community has bled over across the turnpike with VISION, giving Tulsa the BOK Center and a complete redesign and expansion of Gilcrease Museum.
"Oklahoma City really woke up to something it took us another decade to catch up to it in Tulsa which is that the competition for companies and employees is not between cities and suburbs anymore, it's not between Tulsa and Oklahoma City anymore, it's between metro areas all around the world competing with each other," said Mayor Bynum.
Both mayors are always looking forward. For Holt, it's narrowing down potential projects for MAPS4, which include social issues like mental health and homelessness as well as a new soccer stadium and expansion of the Chesapeake Arena. Bynum is working on projects like the Improve our Tulsa tax, which will put millions of dollars into streets and infrastructure. The two also plan to target education in 2020.
"When we emerge from that there's the high likelihood that we may have mutual things that we could work together on, or maybe state law changes," Mayor Hold said. "We don't know yet but I think both of our communities are desperate for that kind of unified vision for public education."
The two also plan to keep a close eye on the state legislature this year.
"I think so much of the time, we're playing defense," said Mayor Bynum. "A lot of the time I think there's an inclination by the state government to take away the prerogative of local governments to determine what they're going to do for local citizens to make up their own mind on how they want to regulate their community or not and a lot of the work that we do is not on unfortunately spending a whole lot of time on trying to get the good things done as it is preventing bad things from happening."
While their frequent visits may be geared toward city business, the Holt and Bynum also know when to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labor, on this night, watching their two cities compete, if only on the soccer field.
"I think there is so much we can do for Oklahoma when our two cities are working together as a team," Bynum said.
"Except tonight," Mayor Holt interjected.
"That's right, tonight is not about working together as a team," add Bynum.
"Tonight, may the best soccer team win," said Holt.
Bynum agreed. By the way, the game ended in a tie.