Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, his face projected onto the screen at the Admiral Twin Theater, smiled, waved and smiled again, his speech drowned out by the honking car horns of his supporters.
Bynum said he was “filled with gratitude” and that Tulsa proved it was “the kind of city where we focus on the things that can bring us together and move forward together.”
“I’m incredibly grateful for that and grateful for a chance to work as hard as I can for another four years and move the city I love so much forward,” Bynum said after it was announced he’d earned a second term as Tulsa’s mayor by taking nearly 52 percent of the vote.
It wasn’t long ago that it was perhaps considered something of a formality that Bynum would be re-elected. When he surprised then-incumbent Dewey Bartlett in 2016 by winning outright and eschewing a runoff, he did so on the backs of support from both moderate Republicans and Democrats who saw in Bynum a conservative who was more like them.
But earlier this summer when Bynum, on a national television show, said he did not feel that race was a factor in the 2016 fatal police shooting by a white police officer of Terence Crutcher, a black unarmed Tulsan, he found himself a challenger in local community activist Greg Robinson.
Robinson’s platform was decidedly left of Bynum’s, and he was able, in just 76 short days of campaigning, to turn himself into a serious challenger. When information on absentee and mail-in vote results was released earlier this week and showed that Democrats in Tulsa had out-voted Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 in the lead up to election day, some thought Robinson might be able to force a runoff election between him and Bynum.
But it was not to be. At an election night party in downtown Tulsa, Robinson acknowledged there would be no runoff election, though he said the momentum his campaign started just over two months ago would continue.
“The fact that we were able to get 30 percent of the vote and to almost force a runoff, but more importantly to galvanize the energy of the city and to push them to think about what’s possible, that’s a win,” Robinson told reporters after conceding late Tuesday.
“By any stretch of the imagination, the city of Tulsa is better because of the campaign we ran. A good, clean campaign that talked about the issues and brought voices to the table that frankly, hadn’t been brought to the table in 100 years. And that’s something I’m very proud to be a part of.”
Bynum, in his acceptance speech, talked about the progress made in Tulsa since his term began. He said Tulsa used to compete with the suburbs, but now competes “with the biggest cities in the country,” and he talked about the difficulties of recent years — including a tornado, the historic floods of 2019, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its related issues, as well as the fatal shooting of a Tulsa Police officer earlier this year.
And he credited Tulsans with rebuilding after the tornado and floods, and with “saving lives” by closing businesses in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and by lining the streets to support Tulsa police officers following the death of Sgt. Craig Johnson in June.
“Those moments … remind me of what’s best in Tulsa,” Bynum said.
Bynum, depending on who you ask, and when you’ve asked, has been either too progressive or not progressive enough.
When he was first elected in 2016 as a more moderate conservative than then-incumbent Dewey Bartlett, Bynum’s detractors called him a liberal in conservative clothing. Ken Reddick, Bynum’s biggest conservative opponent this time around called himself the only “true conservative” in the race, and urged voters to cast Bynum aside and “put an end to the Bloomberg globalist agenda.”
But in June, when President Donald Trump abruptly announced he was holding his first in-person campaign event during the COVID-19 pandemic in Tulsa, Bynum was criticized by many for not stopping, or at least criticizing, the event. Bynum was photographed that day with other state leaders smiling as Trump walked past.
Bynum, who said that as mayor he was not able to stop the Trump rally, was faulted for that by some of his more liberal supporters in Tulsa.
But, just like in 2016, it appears that support from both Republicans and Democrats is what helped Bynum secure victory. And he said on Tuesday that he was committed to working for all Tulsans whether they voted for him or not.
“We can work together as one city,” Bynum said. “We’ve proven, I think, over the last four years, what Tulsa can accomplish when we work together. And I want us to do that over the next four years.”
Along those lines, Bynum said he looked forward to working with Robinson over the next four years. He said he’d spoken with Robinson after the race had been called late Tuesday and told him he was “really impressed with the energy” of his supporters and his campaign and that it was “really important that he and I find ways that we can work together.”
“I talked about Sen. (Don) Nickels earlier, that’s a big thing I learned from working for him, is that you can disagree with somebody today, but you’ve still got to work with them tomorrow,” Bynum said. “And that’s why it’s so important not to make it personal, to stay focused on the issues, and with Greg, a prime example, somebody who I’ve always gotten long with personally and have a lot of respect for him personally and would absolutely want to work with him moving forward.”