Oklahoma Allies: Tulsa, OKC Mayors Reflect On Pandemic Partnership

Wednesday, October 6th 2021, 10:27 pm

By: Craig Day

Between COVID-19, racial unrest, and economic crisis, it has been a challenging year and a half for everyone, including those trying to govern through it all.

News On 6 sat down with the mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City several times over the past several years and decided it was time to do it again. News 9’s Karl Torp and News on 6’s Craig Day talked to Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum on the In the Raw patio overlooking downtown Tulsa to find out how their unique partnership has helped them through challenging times.

It has been a tumultuous time in the state and for the mayors of its two biggest cities, unlike anything they have ever had to navigate before.

“We’re going to start with COVID-19 and just during the height of COVID-19, you guys were really making policy for state. The two biggest cities in Oklahoma really dictating what the rest of the state was doing. How did that go down between you two?” Torp asked.

“When we came in, we have been friends for 20 years,” Bynum said. “But I think early on it was more about resetting the tone of the relationship between the cities away from this sort of stupid sibling rivalry. I don’t think any of us every expected we would be dealing with the greatest public health crisis either of our cities ever had to face and using that dynamic to help each other out.”

Early on, the cities needed to share information on the virus itself. How it was transmitted? What it would take to slow the spread? Bynum and Holt were both dealing with similar populations and similar circumstances, both with the virus and the regulatory environment.

“I think we realized pretty quickly that we would have to coordinate that,” Mayor Holt said. “If the state had maybe come in immediately with various mitigating factors, you know, we probably wouldn’t have been put in that same position. And in other states that sometimes is what happened. But here that wasn’t coming, at least in the earliest days.”

After the Thunder game that essentially signaled the beginning of the pandemic, Holt and Bynum were talking almost every day, sometimes every hour.

“We ultimately got to that point, we both asked our residents to shelter in place,” Holt said. “We did it down to like 12 o’clock on a Saturday. Let’s announce it to our residents at the exact same time.”

“You know that everybody that’s in the areas with the greatest population density, where this virus can spread the fastest, you’re going to be under the same set of rules. And I think that helped build confidence,” Bynum said.

It’s that same strategy that the two mayors said they use when it comes to building the economies of both cities.

“Let’s talk about economic opportunity. How can the cities work together in the future?” Day asked.

“I think one of the things that Mayor Holt and I’ve tried to do in our times in this job is create cities that are attractive for companies that are looking at locating to Oklahoma,” Bynum said. “We have this, I think, incorrect mindset that Tulsa and Oklahoma City are so far apart. Oh my gosh, you know it takes an hour and a half if you’re driving the speed limit to get from one to the other. That’s like a short commute for people who are used to living on the coasts. The things they are doing in Oklahoma City, they help us recruit business here in Tulsa, and I think vice versa.” 

“I think, we can be mutually beneficial and we also, I think, inspire each other,” Holt said. “I think we’ve both borrowed things from the other through the years to improve our quality of life which has really been the secret sauce. I mean sure, tax policy, regulatory policy, workers comp reform, those things obviously do matter to companies. But I don’t think any of those things would have been enough if our two cities had not invested in themselves over the last 20-30 years to build a city people want to live in.”

Holt sees those past, present, and future investments paying off through his citizens.

“I’m meeting more and more people it’s almost like something I never expected or hoped for,” Holt said. “They have no connection to Oklahoma. They have chosen Oklahoma City, in my case and I’m sure Tulsa has their own stories. Just because it looks pretty cool, a good place to build their life. I’m like, your parents don’t live here? You didn’t go to high school here? They’re like, nope just did some research and decided this is where to go.”

You can watch the full interview with Bynum and Holt here.