A million stories in Oklahoma City — including 2013’s top 10

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Joe Friday’s character used to say in the classic Dragnet television series: “There are a million stories in the city.”

It is not possible or practical even to sketch such a number, but herewith, form one reporter’s perspective, the Top Ten stories from the heart of Oklahoma City for the year that was.

The emerging contest between Ward 2 Council Member Ed Shadid and incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett was the top story of the past year. Cornett is a conservative with close ties to the city’s corporate and legal elite.

 Shadid is a liberal with some nuances.
For example, he casts a critical eye on some government programs benefitting corporate interests, and that draws some support from local conservatives.

Shadid promises a more inclusive approach to mayoral appointments, Cornett wants four more years to implement the most recent Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS).

Both men are divorced, and that is becoming an issue. The table has been set with details from Shadid’s divorce, but not from Cornett’s.

This will be a battle of the titans, with voters giving their verdict on March 4.

In second place, the Oklahoma City economy is the envy of the nation, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, a successful National Basketball Association franchise in the beloved Thunder, new corporate headquarters for energy behemoth Continental Resources, the steady presence of Devon Energy and its emblematic tower, a reorganized Chesapeake Energy seeking its way in a new era, and a small business surge.

For good or ill, a new era of health care delivery is upon America, and Oklahoma City. Regardless of the coming year’s staged implementation of the Affordable Care Act – one of the national leaders supporting the law is Air Force veteran Katherine Scheirman – transformational change is upon us. Groups like Variety Health Care, a citywide network of primary care facilities, aim to bring better care to the working poor and middle class. Time will tell if that can offset the end of Insure Oklahoma benefits for thousands of Sooners just above the poverty level.

On the free-market end of the spectrum, Dr. Keith Smith and the Surgery Center of Oklahoma have gained national acclaim and favorable attention for a kind of “cash-and-carry” approach that rejects both Big Government and Big Insurance

The heroic response to the Moore/south Oklahoma City tornadoes last spring is our community’s fourth top story of the year. Governments at all levels responded quickly, demonstrated by first responders and the leadership of Gov. Mary Fallin and state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, among many others, in meeting needs quickly. President Barack Obama visited the area to offer both words of comfort and a pledge of federal resources. 

Most impressive of all was the way that diverse Oklahomans demonstrated anew the much-vaunted “Oklahoma Standard,” sketched in our state top 10 story published Dec. 26.

The challenges facing local public schools continue to distress both families and the city leadership. 

Interim city Superintendent Dave Lopez expressed disappointment in the poor grades for many city public schools, but pledged new efforts to reach the new and more rigorous state academic benchmarks that have supplanted previous measurements. This is our fifth top story for 2013.

Great art and culture is a crucial aspect of a life in a great city – and great art is our sixth place designee. From the months-long exhibition of religious art at the downtown City Art Museum (“Heaven and Earth”) to the stellar regular performances of CityRep (a world-class actors’ equity group), Shakespeare in the Park and Poteet Theatre at St. Luke’s Methodist, the professional and amateur arts are thriving.

The Paseo Neighborhood is home to a thriving cluster of art galleries, and downtown’s Film Row is becoming an anchor for area revival. The deadCENTER draws some of the world’s finest independent films to a well-respected festival every June.

The Renaissance of Oklahoma City University, under leadership of former U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Henry and his wife Jan, is accelerating. In the midst of a major fundraising push for the Methodist-affiliated institution, plans are underway to move the College of Law to a “new” downtown home – the venerable building the once houses Central High. OCU, our seventh top story for 2013, continues to lead the way in educational preparation for aspiring dancers, singers and performers, and plays a vital role in local economic growth at the Herman Meinders School of Business.

The eighth top story: Oklahoma City’s gay community has flourished in recent years as the OKC Pride parade draws thousands to the near-northwest Penn and 39th corridor. Thousands gathered at the new Cimarron Alliance headquarters, established by Rev. Scott Hamilton, to celebrate a court victory last spring, the Woven group is meeting special needs, while Other Options under the leadership of Mary Arbuckle continues to meet the practical needs of AIDS sufferers.

Here in the heart of Oklahoma City, groups like the Peace House and VOICE (which attorney Bob Lemon this fall) provide institutional permanence to the policy advocacy of legislators like Kay Floyd, Connie Johnson and Al McAffrey. 

This sustained (and growing) liberal role in leavening policy development in Oklahoma City is our ninth top story.

The conservative electoral majority in the city finds representation in men like state Rep. David Dank, a long-time activist, and younger legislators like Sen. David Holt and Rep. Jason Nelson. Seeking to assume a vacated Senate seat are long-time city leaders Steve Kern and Michael Taylor. The conservative presence from the city’s core is the tenth top local story.

State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft has established not only an important role in the legislature, but is finding common group on some issues with peace activist Nathaniel Batchelder and the liberty-sensitivities of the American Civil Liberties Union.

An anti-war rally organized by Wesselhoft and Batchelder drew nationwide attention after an Oklahoma Watchdog news story in September. 

No more looking back, for 2014 is upon us.
You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com . Portions of this essay also appeared in The City Sentinel newspaper, and at the national Watchdog.org website.