History happens this way. Small steps, followed by big moments, followed by more small steps.
If one is lucky, the small steps — the work that gets one to the next big moment — pass unnoticed. Or so it seems, because small steps are easy to miss.
G.T. Bynum had his big moment Monday. At 39 years old, he stood before more than 400 people at the Central Library and was sworn in as Tulsa’s 40th mayor. Only two Tulsa mayors, Terry Young and Jim Maxwell, were younger when they took office.
Then it was back to the small steps. A brief City Council meeting at the library, handshakes, selfies and photos galore. Back at City Hall, it was nearly 4 p.m. before Bynum and his staff began to settle into their new offices on the 15th floor.
“I haven’t seen my office,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Amy Brown as she walked through the glass doors. “I need to take a peek.”
Brown is fourth in line to take over for Bynum should he be unable to perform his duties. And she had yet to see her office. Small steps.
Deputy Mayor Michael Junk carried in a big cardboard box full of books and policy binders.
“We have three-ring binders up to the ceiling,” he said.
His books — among them “The Reagan Diaries” and “Downsizing The Federal Government” — go with him from job to job, he joked.
Junk, who was Bynum’s campaign manager, knows all about small steps. He took more of them than anybody in executing the campaign strategy that Bynum used to defeat two-term incumbent Dewey Bartlett.
Monday, this worrier was chill.
“Honestly, it’s been very low key,” Junk said of Inauguration Day. “You can’t believe how relieved I am to have 12 other staff members to work with.”
Bynum arrived a few minutes later. He had company — his wife, Susan Bynum; his son, Robert, 9; and his daughter, Annabel, 7, were at his side — and they had stopped walking. There were pictures to look at, a wall full of pictures of all of Tulsa’s mayors, and there was their father and husband. A brand-new color portrait.
“It was cool to show them and to show them my granddad (Robert LaFortune) and Bill (Lafortune) and their great-great-great grandfather (R.N. Bynum),” Bynum said. “They have never been up here, Susan has never been up here. … That is why I wanted to bring them over after the transition and show them.”
He will not occupy the same office his two predecessors, Bartlett and Kathy Taylor, used when they were in office. He’s a few small steps down the hall, in a towering glass-walled office on the southeast corner of the building. What a view.
Bynum, the history buff, is filling it with old stuff. He’ll do his work seated at a wooden desk from his great grandfather G.T. Bynum Sr.’s machine shop.
Not far away is a birthday gift he received from his mother a few years ago: a replica of the rocking chair John F. Kennedy had in the Oval Office.
There is another wooden desk, this one from the U.S. Senate.
“There is a senator from Colorado who had that desk and his grandson sold it to me,” Bynum said. “It’s the exact same desk as is in the (Harry) Truman Library, the exact same desk as in the L.B.J. Library. It’s real hard to find one that isn’t kept in somebody’s family.”
And then there is the long, imposing, old wooden meeting table. It’s been sitting around City Hall, City Halls, really, for years. Robert LaFortune sat at it during his days as a city commissioner. Later, LaFortune would become Tulsa’s 31st mayor.
“When my granddad was a rookie street commissioner, the mayor sat right here and they would go around the table — there were five of them — and so the mayor and then the other three commissioners would vote and my granddad was in what was called the ‘hot seat.’ Right here, because if it was a tie, two to two, he always had to break the tie.
“It moved from old, old City Hall, to old City Hall, to this place and was just off in a hallway, and I thought, ‘Man, how cool would it be to have that in my office to use?’ so I moved it in.”
Now at the conference table was his grandson — surrounded by his staff — signing ordinances and other paperwork mayors must do. Bynum said the only thing he’d learned on his first day in office was that mayors have to tend to a lot of minutia — including the signing of documents. The small steps of a big job.
That was it. First day as mayor, over. He would race off for a brief speaking engagement, but as far as any real work, he was done.
How quickly, and slowly, it had come. Since the June 28 election, Bynum has been counting down the days until he would take office. Monday was day number 160. If he had been anxious before, he wasn’t anymore.
“Actually, it was so funny, we were sitting in bed last night, Susan studying for a (law school) final, completely exhausted,” Bynum said. “I had gone to a dinner that some folks had for me, and I was ready to go to sleep. I thought in advance I am going to be so wired I won’t be able to sleep, but I slept like a baby.”
Walking out of City Hall, Bynum laughed about how his day had begun. It was early, about 7 a.m. or so. He wanted in, to check out his new office. At the time, he was still City Councilor Bynum. A janitor had to let him in.
Several hours and one big moment later, he was walking out as mayor.
But, as if to remind himself of all the small steps it had taken him to get there, he would return. At 6:30 p.m., in the dark, Bynum stood at the first-floor entrance of City Hall and greeted his family.
There was Robert LaFortune, and others, all glad to see him. Hugging and happy. And up they went to the 15th floor, to Mayor G.T. Bynum’s unpacked office with the great view.
Later, a few small steps down the street, they would dine together to celebrate this big moment in Tulsa’s history.