TULSA — Tulsa is a big small town. Big enough to accommodate 400,000 residents in a place known for its culture, museums and grand art deco structures that pay homage to the city’s oil heyday. Small enough that it’s sometimes difficult to run an errand in town without bumping into someone you know.
And so it is with the two candidates left in Tulsa’s mayor’s race, which will be decided Tuesday. Challenger Kathy Taylor and incumbent Dewey Bartlett, Jr., live roughly a half-mile apart, share a social strata and dozens of mutual friends and, at one point, actually used to like each other.
For much of the past year, they’ve been at each other’s throats, peppering airwaves and mailboxes with brutal ads and accusations — eroding what had been the equivalent of a political romance. She recruited him while she was mayor in 2007 to help head up a high-profile drive to fix Tulsa’s seemingly ancient roadways; he endorsed her re-election bid in 2009, but she decided not to run again.
Those days are long gone. Bartlett’s called her a quitter who left office because she couldn’t cut it as the recession was gripping Tulsa. She’s called him an absentee mayor who bothers to show up to only 8 percent of various city meetings and has no plan to tackle a budget shortfall that totaled $3.16 million at the start of the fiscal year.
“How do you get two friends to hate each other? You get them to run for office,” said small business owner Larry Mocha, who knows both candidates and can’t bear to see the nastiness between the two.
Bartlett, 66, a Republican and oil company executive who projects a plain-talking, aw-shucks demeanor to constituents, took the city’s reins in 2009 and is credited for shepherding Tulsa through a rough economic patch that included layoffs of 124 police officers — most were later rehired— and other citywide cutbacks.