While City Councilor Blake Ewing’s businesses have slowly collapsed around him the last few years, he has continued to be one of the most articulate and influential members of the City Council.
And one of the most popular — at least in District 4, which he represents.
Ewing was first elected in 2011 with 57 percent of the vote. Three years later he was re-elected with 73 percent of the vote, and in June he won a third term with 63 percent of the vote.
Not everyone loves him, though. He has, from time to time, clashed with downtown developers, constituents and even his fellow councilors. And those disagreements have not been limited to policy. Ewing’s critics say he can be arrogant and self-righteous, relying more on bullying than persuasion to make his case.
Ewing disagrees. But at the same time he makes no apologies for forcefully supporting his positions and challenging those with whom he might disagree.
“I am in public office for one reason, and that is to make Tulsa the best city that it can be,” Ewing said. “When I feel somebody is pursuing their personal interests at the expense of the city as a whole, I don’t feel like I’m doing my job if I don’t face against that person. …
“So, yeah, if somebody wants to stand up at City Hall and advocate for themselves against the best interests of community, you can count on me to be the one that stands up and calls them out for it.”
This does not mean Ewing’s arguments always win the day, and they surely don’t always win him friends.
“He’s made a lot of enemies amongst defenders of the status quo, and among people he’s publicly called out after they settle for less on behalf of Tulsans,” said City Councilor and Mayor-Elect G.T. Bynum. “Heck, he’s called me out. But I’m going to be a better mayor because he did.”
Among his fellow councilors Ewing is widely credited with focusing the council’s attention on the need to revitalize the city’s urban core and the benefits that would bring to the entire community.
“His most valuable role from my standpoint has been that he will be the guy who pulls our gaze out of the weeds and affixes it instead on the horizon,” Bynum said. “He is always calling on us to consider the long term. I think he is brilliant, and I’m thankful he willingly subjects himself to the slings and arrows that come with public service.”
With Ewing’s passion has come controversy and accomplishment. He has either led or played a key leadership role in several city initiatives while in office, including:
- Securing funding for a Bus Rapid Transit system
- Advocating for the construction of a sidewalk along the east side of Riverside Drive to provide pedestrian access to A Gathering Place for Tulsa park.
- Resolving the dispute over renaming Brady Street
- Establishing a downtown demolition moratorium credited with saving several structures
- Writing the city ordinance that allowed Uber and Lyft to operate in Tulsa
- Creating the state’s first dedicated municipal transit tax
- Overhauling the city’s hotel/motel tax
- Representing the City Council in efforts to update the zoning code
Ewing’s fellow councilors say that although they have not always agreed with his positions — or, at times, the manner in which he has expressed them — they have never questioned his commitment to his work on the council.
“There is no question that we have had a transformation downtown, and I think Blake has been a key player in that,” said Councilor Anna America.
America said she and Ewing have not always agreed on issues, but Ewing’s knowledge of the city’s zoning and land-use policies, in particular, have been of great benefit to her and her fellow councilors.
“I think he makes me a better councilor because he makes me think about things in a different way,” America said.
America, like Bynum, said one of Ewing’s greatest strengths is that he thinks big. For example, he was responsible for getting funding into the Vision Tulsa sales tax for preliminary work on a downtown transportation hub, often referred to as the Center of the Universe Expansion project.
The long-term vision is to build a raised platform over the width of the railroad tracks between Cincinnati and Detroit avenues. Below it would be the transit hub, where Tulsans and visitors alike could grab a taxi, train, bike or other form of transportation.
Above the platform would be park space, dog parks, basketball courts, cafes, picnic areas, a movie theater, retails stores and raised sidewalks.
“You need someone who is going to go big on an idea, and Blake does that,” America said.
Tom Baker, manager of the Downtown Coordinating Council, said Ewing has been a strong advocate for downtown development and transportation, sometimes to his own detriment.
“I would say he has a tremendous passion for what he sees from a variety of experiences of what downtown can be,” Baker said. “Sometimes he pushes hard, and some people don’t like that.”
Mike Neal, president and CEO of Tulsa Regional Chamber, said Ewing has been at the center of the city’s downtown revitalization.
“First as a small business owner and entrepreneur, and more recently as a councilor for our city’s core,” Neal said. “His vision and passion for Tulsa — his ideas, dreams, and energy for our city, and what it can become — have helped support the success we’ve seen as a community.”
Elliot Nelson has known Ewing for years. As the owner of The McNellies Group, which operates several downtown restaurants and bars, Nelson has seen how the city’s downtown has grown in the last decade.
According to Nelson, Ewing played a big role in that revival.
“Downtown Tulsa is in a better place because Blake Ewing was down here building businesses,” Nelson said. “We have gotten further quicker because of Blake as an entrepreneur and because of Blake as city councilor.
“However this all plays out, I think he had a really positive impact on the city over the last seven to 10 years.”