Dressed in a blue pinstripe suit, a blue paisley tie and oxfords, Mayor Dewey Bartlett drove away from City Hall on Wednesday morning in a white pickup truck. It has more than 100,000 miles on it, many of which he’s put on going back and forth from his pecan farm.
On this day, the trip was much shorter. He was headed a few miles south to Keener Oil and Gas Company, the business he owns but has seen little of the past seven years. That changes Monday.
Dewey is done. His office on the 15th floor of City Hall is emptied out. He’s handed in his keys. He may spend a few hours in the Mayor’s Office on Friday saying good-byes, but that’s it.
Saturday he’s off to Bedlam. Sunday, he leaves town for a vacation. Monday, when G.T. Bynum is sworn in as Tulsa’s 40th mayor, Bartlett will be nowhere in sight.
“It’s Bynum’s show, and I don’t want to be in a position to be a distraction,” Bartlett said.
This was not the ending he had in mind. Driving down Cincinnati Avenue, Bartlett talked about how he expected to have another four years to push for high school job training academies, the diversification of city funding sources and other initiatives near and dear to his heart.
“I was assuming I was going to be re-elected and that in my next term we would really be able to hit a lot of big deals,” Bartlett said.
This is not a somber man. Nor is he angry. If he’s bitter, he’s not letting on. But his frustration with the City Council and the city’s voting process, that’s real. Give him a format to voice that frustration, and he will.
As he pulled into his office parking lot, a five- or six-minute drive from City Hall, Bartlett decried the City Council’s decision not to consider any of his appointments to authorities, boards and commissions until such time as the appointment process is reviewed. He’s equally disgusted with the councilors’ failure to act on a proposed ethics code change.
Much of the gridlock can be blamed on the city’s municipal election system, Bartlett believes.
“In this situation I quickly retained lame duck status (after losing the election) in June, until December,” Bartlett said. “That is a terrible position for the city to be in. The citizens aren’t being served, and the City Council took advantage of the situation. It was terrible for the citizens, and it was especially terrible for the people who were up for appointments and reappointments.”
Back to Business
Bartlett carried a handful of city maps into his office. He’s keeping them because he wants to follow the growth of the Gilcrease Expressway, a project he’s supported for years, and other developments in town.
Bartlett wasn’t one to spend a lot of time in his office at City Hall. He describes it as a way station — a place from which to dart off to meetings or drop in on staff.
At Keener, he sits at the same desk his father, Dewey Bartlett Sr., used in the U.S. Senate, and the seal on his door is also from his father’s Washington, D.C., office. The walls are lined with pictures, many of which Bartlett took himself. On one wall, in a glass-enclosed display, are pictures of his deceased dog, Trooper — The Wonder Dog.
The hallway walls are covered with political cartoons. In the corner of a wood-paneled meeting room stands an actual Florida voting booth that a friend sent to Bartlett after the contested 2000 presidential election. He sent a bag of chads, too.
Bartlett’s come back to the office he so obviously loves to receive a quick computer tutorial, then he’s headed back to City Hall. But he’s comfortable here, and glad to keep talking about the last seven years and what lies ahead.
Like a job with the Trump administration, perhaps. Bartlett shocked people last month when he said he planned to make a run at becoming the next U.S. Secretary of Transportation. But Elaine Chao was recently named to that post.
“I am going to keep trying to see if I can be considered for a job,” Bartlett said.
What he doesn’t spend much time and energy thinking about is his defeat in June.
“It’s sunk in now — it’s finality now,” he said.
Bartlett, who will be 70 early next year, is keenly aware of the relentless march of time and is grateful for the good fortune he’s had to be healthy and well as he nears his eighth decade of life. So he plans to keep living.
And laughing. Two incidents early in his administration had him chuckling as he recalled them Wednesday.
It turns out Tulsa mayors get a key to the city. Not those big, honorary keys that wouldn’t open a cigar box. But a slick, plastic key, like the ones they hand out at hotels. Only the mayor’s key gets the mayor into just about any building owned by the city. Even the Police Station.
Early in his administration, after exiting a conference room in the City Council offices, he used the key to get back into the room again, to the surprise of the councilors inside. Not long afterward, his key no longer opened City Council office doors. Someone had made a call.
Then there was his photos. Bartlett had hoped to take his own pictures to chronicle his time in office. This was early in his administration, and he was not beloved by the City Council. In fact, Bartlett said, the looks on city councilors’ faces when he would appear in council chambers were terrifying.
“Roscoe Turner, he would look at me and just shake his head, grimace — the other ones, same way,” Bartlett said. “They looked terrible — it would have scared children and birds alike, just by looking at them.”
So one day Bartlett decided to take his camera down to the council chambers to take some photos “to show them what they looked like from my perspective.”
Turner, who died in 2014, proceeded to ask Bartlett what the heck he was going on about.
“I said, ‘Roscoe, I am just showing you what a beautiful sight it is to see the City Council,’” Bartlett said. “And the steam just came out of his ears.”
It was a short-lived tiff. The mayor’s wife, Victoria, put an end to it.
“Victoria said I shouldn’t do that because it’s just like throwing gas on a raging fire, so I quit,” Bartlett said.
Fake Dewey Bartlett
Asked if he worries about what people think of him, Bartlett said he’s over that. Then he qualified his answer: He does care about what he’s been trying to accomplish the last seven years, and that his rationale and reasoning for doing it is understood.
“If they don’t understand it or don’t want to understand it, I’m disappointed in that,” Bartlett said. “Especially if they just don’t want to understand it. That’s frustrating.”
He’s had no such concern about Fake Dewey Bartlett or other social media outlets that have taken cracks at him. He says he’s heard of the Fake Dewey Bartlett Twitter account but never seen it.
“I don’t even know who’s doing it,” he said. “I can imagine who.”
Saxophones, Motorcyles and the No. 1 Parking Space
The computer guy finally came by and explained a few things to Bartlett, and now it was time to go back to City Hall.
It would take a while, though. The conversation took a twist toward music, one of Bartlett’s passions, and he talked about concerts he’s attended lately and how a friend had offered to teach him how to play the saxophone. He plans to take him up on the offer.
He’s cutting a day off his trip next week so he can be back in time to ride his silver Harley Davidson V-Rod in a toy drive.
“I haven’t ridden that much the last couple of years — just didn’t have the time to do it,” Bartlett said.
On his way out, he stopped to talk to a few of his employees. One pulled him into her office for a private conversation. Another offered some pecans from Bartlett’s farm.
Back in his truck, he talked about the 1,700 pecan trees he’d planted on his farm and how he understood then that it would be years before they produced pecans. Now they have.
The mayor doesn’t just get an all-powerful key to the city. He gets the No. 1 parking space in the city employees’ parking lot.
That’s where Bartlett parked his pickup when he arrived back at City Hall.
Monday, the spot belongs to G.T. Bynum.