Steve Kunzweiler coasted to a win over challenger Ben Fu in Tuesday night’s runoff election for Tulsa County District Attorney, with voters showing widespread support for the incumbent over his upstart challenger.
Tuesday night’s results mirrored those of June’s primary, where Kunzweiler took and held a large early lead over Fu and fellow Republican Tammy Westcott. That night Fu narrowly held off Westcott to earn a berth in the runoff, giving him a second chance in his bid to unseat Kunzweiler.
But time ran out on Tuesday night.
Kunzweiler’s victory came despite a tumultuous first term in which he charged two law enforcement officers (Robert Bates and Betty Shelby) with felonies for fatal on-duty shootings and another (Shannon Kepler) for an off-duty fatal shooting. Kunzweiler got a conviction in the Bates case and fought through several mistrials to get a conviction on Kepler as well.
But the Shelby case was different altogether. As soon as that charge was filed, Kunzweiler faced criticism from those who felt he only charged the Tulsa Police Department officer out of political correctness, bowing to political pressure due to the race of the shooting victim (Terence Crutcher was black and unarmed.)
Shelby was acquitted, and the Tulsa Police Department’s union backed and supported Fu.
But in the end it didn’t matter and Kunzweiler moved on and will face Democrat Jenny Proehl-Day in November.
Proehl-Day, the only Democrat in the race, told The Frontier she was excited to face Kunzweiler, saying that she and “Mr. Kunzweiler couldn’t be further apart if we tried.”
“I’m excited,” Proehl-Day, who announced her candidacy earlier this year but has mainly been on the sidelines as the Republicans squared off, said. “I feel like finally I’m going to get some attention to my platform and my ideas.”
Like Fu, Proehl-Day once worked for Kunzweiler, the man she must now face in November if she is to become Tulsa County’s District Attorney.
The race between Fu and Kunzweiler had mainly focused on their differences. Kunzweiler is a longtime prosecutor who worked for former DA Tim Harris and then was elected to replace his former boss when Harris chose to not seek re-election in 2014. Considered more of an “old school” District Attorney, Kunzweiler has nonetheless offered some support for the concept of criminal justice reforms, if not for the actual reforms Oklahoma voters passed in 2016.
Of course neither did Fu, whose campaign slogan was “Right on Crime.” In an interview with The Frontier announcing his bid for District Attorney, Fu said he believe State Questions 780 and 781 (which lowered punishments for some crimes and would invest some of the cost savings into treatment programs rather than prisons) went too far.
But Fu did campaign against Kunzweiler by highlighting ideas he said differentiated him from the incumbent. With Kunzweiler, Fu argued, voters knew what they were getting — the same thing (for better or worse) they’d gotten during the last four years. Fu pitched plans to offer longevity bonuses to prosecutors (funded by as yet unnamed Tulsa philanthropists,) and to better use data to identify what was working and what wasn’t.