District 1 City Councilor Jack Henderson’s greatest strength, his experience, turned out to be his greatest weakness in his unsuccessful bid for re-election Tuesday, according to several north Tulsan residents interviewed by The Frontier on Wednesday.
“Let’s let someone else in there for a change,” said Sydney Knox, 20. “Give someone else a chance.”
Many voters interviewed by The Frontier weren’t impressed with Henderson’s job performance, either. And it did not help that his opponent, Vanessa Hall-Harper, had been gunning for him for more than two years.
Tuesday — on her second try — she knocked him off, winning a narrow, 533-vote victory. Henderson did not return calls for comment. He told the Tulsa World on Wednesday that he may challenge the election results.
“People have eyes: the community continues to deteriorate,” said Hall-Harper. “When you ask questions, then you are admonished and spoken to like you are a child, as though you have no right to question.
“I think people saw that, and they got sick of that, and they saw an alternative with me.”
Henderson was first elected to the City Council in 2004 and has served ever since. For many north Tulsa residents, he is the person who gets the credit when things are going well in their community and the blame when they are not.
Voters like Sheilia Fuselier said things could be better, and Henderson paid the price.
“Jack has been in there for a number of years but there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress,” she said. “So we need some new blood. We need some new ideas. We need some new things done within our district.”
Jomekia Marks, 42, said her mother voted for Henderson, but she couldn’t do it.
“The simple reason that I voted for Vanessa is I don’t see Jack doing what’s necessary, so maybe with a younger person, maybe she’ll be more forward-thinking to the needs of north Tulsa,” she said.
Across the street, Marks’ 85-year-old neighbor, AnnieBell Johnson, sat on a folding chair in her driveway and looked out at the street.
“I was really surprised that he lost, but I just don’t think he’s been doing his job over here in north Tulsa,” she said. “Our streets have not been swept this year. … I think that is one of the simplest things.”
Fuselier and other voters interviewed by The Frontier said they want to see more economic development in north Tulsa, starting with a place to buy groceries.
“We also need shopping centers in this area,” Fuselier said. “Because the majority of the time (when) we have to go out and buy clothes and materials, we have to go out south or to the east or wherever instead of spending our money in our community.”
Marks said she would like to be able to serve her son fruit with his meals, but even that can be a challenge because of a lack of places to buy them.
“When we say we want a grocery store, we’re not talking about Family Dollar or Dollar General, we’re talking about someplace to get apples and oranges for me,” Marks said. “To me, that was a big deal.”
Henderson was a strong proponent of a $10 million Vision Tulsa program approved by voters earlier this year that will pay for pre-construction work on a 112-acre tract on the southeast corner of 36th Street North and Peoria Avenue.
The intent is for the property, which was purchased by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, to become home to a large industrial business that would provide high-paying jobs.
Yet voters never mentioned that project — or any of Henderson’s other accomplishments over the past 13 years — when discussing his performance as a city councilor.
“I think he’s been in so long, and there’s not really been change,” Knox said. “I’m not saying he hasn’t done anything, (but) where’s the progress?”
In 2014, Hall-Harper lost to Henderson in a three-way race in which she received just 33.1 percent of the vote, according to Tulsa County Election Board figures. But she never stopped campaigning. It paid off: she earned 52.1 percent of the vote Tuesday.
“I think people just saw that we were working diligently to be a voice for the community,” Hall-Harper said. “And people were just ready for a change.”
This year’s voter turnout far exceeded the numbers in 2014, in part because the presidency of the United States was also on the ballot.
In 2014, 4,012 of District 1’s 18,110 registered voters cast ballots in the City Council race, according to the Election Board. Tuesday, 12,789 of the district’s 19,233 registered voters cast a ballot.
Hall-Harper, 45, is manager of the Healthy Living Program at Tulsa Health Department, where she has worked for more than 20 years.
She first made news as one of the leaders of a grassroots effort to upgrade the facilities at B.C. Franklin Park. She’s also pushing for the creation of an African Affairs Commission.
Hall-Harper said she believes her work at B.C. Franklin Park helped north Tulsa residents understand that they can help make changes in their community without waiting for their city councilor to lead the way.
Going forward, she plans to push for the construction of adequate and affordable housing, better public transportation and that elusive grocery store.
“We just need someone to do the work,” Hall-Harper said.
North Tulsa native and longtime city official Dwain Midget said he believes Hall-Harper won the election because she worked exceedingly hard to show people that she wanted to serve.
“And I think folks, they were ready for a change,” Midget said. “Hopefully, the community — like the nation — will pull together to make positive advances.”