2020 State of the City
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Thank you, Percy. Thank you to you, your board, Roy Williams and his team, and everyone who makes this event possible. I really don’t know of any other city in America where so many people – almost 1,600 - come together each year for the State of the City address.
So it’s a great tradition and it is my honor to stand before all of you today in this room, and all those watching on Facebook Live now or on tape in the hours and days ahead. For those of you watching online, I’m sure there are many other temptations for you right now. And so, I want you to know that we have anticipated this, and at the 15-minute mark of this speech, there will be an adorable video of a dog walking on two legs.
At the 30-minute mark, look for a video of someone opening a new iPhone.
There’s kinda something here for everybody today and we hope you’ll stick around.
We come together again this afternoon with a remarkable year in our rear-view mirror. And so I won’t bury the lede. The state of our city as we sit here today is triumphant. We faced the dragon of division that is laying siege to American politics, and we slayed it. We took seriously the idea that we could be One OKC, even in a time of demographic, generational and political transition for our city, and in a time of division nationally. When I stood before you a year ago, we planted the seeds of MAPS 4. In the months that ensued, we raised the bar for inclusivity, transparency and thoughtfulness as we developed a package that addresses the needs of our city and our people in 2020 and beyond. As that process transitioned into a campaign, this Chamber and its members continued the tradition of strong partnership that has been the hallmark of our city’s progress the last quarter-century. We could not have done it without this Chamber. And on December 10th, 72 percent of voters approved the MAPS 4 initiative, setting a modern record for a sales tax vote in our city, and shattering the previous MAPS records. I’ll have more to say about MAPS 4 in a few minutes and really, throughout these remarks, but there is no question that its overwhelming passage was the seminal moment of the last year, and for all of you in this room and in this city who embraced the promise of that moment and worked to make it a reality, thank you and congratulations.
Throughout my time as Mayor, I have viewed my priorities - our priorities - as four main categories – core services, quality of life / MAPS, public education and incorporating the diversity of our city into our decision-making process. I will again speak to you today through that framework.
Let’s begin, where it always should, with core services. Last year, I went to some pains to make sure you understood the unique challenge Oklahoma City has given itself. We are 620 square miles, one of the largest cities in the United States by land mass. To illustrate this, last year I picked a handful of cities you could simultaneously fit inside of OKC. This year, I have picked some new cities, just for the shock value. These SIX – count ‘em, SIX - major American cities can fit within the city limits of Oklahoma City, all at the same time: Atlanta, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Cincinnati AND Cleveland. So you can imagine the challenges this creates across our city services. All the more remarkable then that our customers – you, the residents of Oklahoma City – give our city government ratings that are off the charts. Every year, we do a scientific survey of our residents to see where we stand. This past year, 64 percent of city residents said they were very satisfied or satisfied with city services, 27 percent had no opinion and only 9 percent were dissatisfied. But here’s the real staggering stat from that same survey. Our residents feel our city is heading in the right direction by a margin of 76 to 8. 76 percent to 8 percent. That optimism for our direction and our future is almost double the national average for a large city. And I believe every single person in the 8 percent writes on my Facebook page daily.
This is encouraging stuff, but nevertheless, we don’t rest on our laurels, and we are well aware of the areas in which we are deficient, most notably the quality of our streets and our transit service.
To remind you, we are currently engaged in the largest street repair initiative in city history, thanks to approval by the voters in 2017 of the Better Streets Safer City initiative. That is putting almost $800 million just into street repairs and improvements. About 80 individual projects all over the city have already been completed. Another 80 individual projects are currently underway as we speak. And then there are about 250 more individual projects planned but yet to commence. And these projects are all over the city. For example, at least 165 separate projects are slated for South OKC. And beyond the projects I just mentioned, there is still another $100 million waiting to be officially allocated to a project. Better Streets Safer City is a game changer, and we think you will notice the difference when it is all said and done. For more details on that initiative, you can always visit okc.gov/bettersafer.
On that same day in September, 2017, our voters also approved permanent funding for more than 120 new police officers. The work of filling out those positions is well underway, and just in the time since I took office, there have been three academy graduations. Public safety – fire and police – remain our highest priority. It’s where most of our annual budget goes. And I’m very proud, also, that we have built a strong personal relationship between city leadership and the fire and police unions. We talk and we find common ground anywhere we can. All of our employee unions – fire, police, and AFSCME - endorsed MAPS 4 this past year, and that was very symbolic of the mutual respect we have worked hard to create.
In the area of transit, the strides that have been made in the last few years are really remarkable. Just in the last 14 months, we have opened a new streetcar system and welcomed over 500,000 riders. We have added Sunday bus service and holiday bus service as well as improved our night routes. We have funded a bus rapid transit line to the Northwest, thanks to a federal partnership championed by Senator Jim Inhofe. We have funded bus rapid transit lines to Northeast OKC and South OKC thanks to MAPS 4. Also thanks to MAPS 4, we have funded 500 new bus shelters, taking us from probably the worst sheltered system in the country to possibly the best. Just those transit projects I just mentioned represent $250 million in commitments to transit capital projects by our taxpayers. And we have helped to create a new regional transit authority, joining Edmond, Norman, Moore, Midwest City and Del City in a partnership to build a regional transit system, likely rail-based. From OKC, we are represented by Governor Brad Henry and Mary Melon, and Governor Henry serves as the chair of the new RTA. Look for much more to come from the RTA effort in the years ahead. This is all unquestionably the best progress we’ve enjoyed in transit probably in our city’s history. It took city leaders almost 15 years to get that momentum going and now it’s incumbent upon us to maintain it.
I mentioned what MAPS 4 is doing for transit, but some of our other core city services also got a major jolt through MAPS 4. This includes $140 million to upgrade our entire system of neighborhood parks and to make specific investments in various parks and rec center assets, as well as a major investment in our youth soccer facilities. On top of that will come another $110 million to place state-of-the-art youth centers in challenged neighborhoods, $30 million to complete and support our system of MAPS senior wellness centers, $87 million for sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and streetlights, $38 million for a new animal shelter, and $30 million to make sure that our key highway and street corridors are visually attractive.
Those are, of course, capital project dollars. At City Hall, we generally think in terms of two funding buckets. On the operational side, we have reason to anticipate that we may experience a tightening in the next fiscal year, but our advance planning through the years, our conservative approach, and our savings means that we have no reason to think we’ll pull back significantly on city services. You look at other cities and you’ll find that layoffs are a common occurrence. That never happens here, and it’s a testament to the smart fiscal approach we’ve taken for a long time, which is also why our bond ratings are off the charts.
Even though overall City Hall has a great track record and high customer satisfaction, we’re not complacent. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative recently offered us the opportunity to put together a working group of some of our most innovative city employees to seek new ways to make Oklahoma City better, and in our most recent budget, we created a new position for a chief innovation officer, so we’ve got somebody in place who wakes up every morning questioning the status quo and helping us adopt best practices, which many times require us to break out of bureaucratic silos.
As I wrap up these highlights of core city services, I want to recognize the great team we have at City Hall that makes all of this possible. Eight other elected officials, Councilmembers Greiner, Cooper, McAtee, Stone, Greenwell, Hamon, Nice and Stonecipher, hundreds of volunteer board members, and 4,800 city employees. They pick up your trash and recycling, they bring you water, they fix your streets, they maintain plans and codes to keep the city on track and livable, they maintain our parks, they run our airports, our Zoo and our transit system, and they run towards the fires, crimes and emergencies so we can stay safe. I’d like to ask the members of our City Council who are here, anyone who serves on a city board or commission, the City Manager Craig Freeman, and all city employees who are in attendance to please stand and let us thank you. This is your city team, and it’s the best in the country. Thank you.
Now let’s talk about the second priority I want to cover, and that is quality of life. I’m going to dwell here for a few minutes because it is a catch-all category, but it is the one that really captures how far we’ve come the last 26 years since the passage of the first MAPS. At that time in 1993, we would have described our quality of life in terms of clean air, limited traffic, low cost of living and friendly people. Those are all good things, but it was understood in 1993 that the quality of life in OKC required a trade-off. You’d have to forget all about professional sports, arts and culture, great food, a vibrant downtown, modern amenities, and support for people at all socioeconomic levels. Four MAPS later, three billion dollars in public investment later, many multiples of private investment on top of that, and now we are America’s 27th-largest city, where we bring you the most unique combination. We have or are about to have all the elements of a great American city, without the hassle or the cost. And again, I could go on all day about what we now offer, but the best I can do in the time we have is to highlight some of the amazing new developments from the last year and the year ahead of us.
Of course, you can’t talk about developments in quality of life without talking about MAPS 4. I touched on it at the front end, let me return to it for a moment. I always viewed the question of MAPS 4 as an existential one for our city’s renaissance. Had MAPS 4 failed, the investments in our city that we’ve grown accustomed to would have simply ended. Whatever it is that you choose to improve in your city and invest in, at least be doing that. We learned what it looks like when you just stop investing. In a six-year period in the 1980s, the voters failed four straight sales tax initiatives intended to improve our city. By 1993, we were desperate. Regardless of the specific benefits of the individual MAPS 4 projects, we now know now that for the next decade, we’ll still be working to improve our quality of life. That in and of itself should bring you great comfort about this city you’ve chosen to live in. But let’s talk for a moment about what the MAPS 4 projects do specifically. Now a few minutes ago, I noted the work MAPS 4 will do to improve some things we consider core needs, like transit, parks, animal welfare, youth centers, senior centers, and connectivity. There’s a lot of overlap here, but there are also of course multiple projects that you might categorize as enhancements to our quality of life that are not necessarily core needs but make our city that much more attractive. The most obvious of those include the commitment to a multipurpose stadium. This means we will no longer be the only top 50 city in the United States without access to such a facility. We preserved our place in professional soccer and opened ourselves up to the possibility of new events we can’t currently even pursue. Additionally, in MAPS 4, we made a commitment to a new coliseum at the OKC Fairgrounds. The current arena is falling apart but it provides the largest economic impact of any publicly-owned facility in the city, and we had to preserve that. We also made a commitment to Chesapeake Arena, the facility that has probably been the greatest catalyst to changing perceptions about this city around the world. Our lease with the Thunder will expire in a couple years, and we simply had to make a commitment to maintenance and improvements over the next decade if we wanted to enter that conversation about a new lease with the strongest possible position for our city. We did that and we now have every reason to believe that conversation will be a pleasant one for all parties involved. And by the way, this year marks the 15th anniversary of the arrival of the NBA in Oklahoma City. Can you believe it? It still seems surreal to me every time an NBA team tips off with Oklahoma City written across their chests, and it all started 15 years ago. What a perfectly poetic way to celebrate that anniversary with the return of one of the guys who started it all. You know, when these two eager kids posed for this photo in 2005, they had no idea that between the two of them, there would be a Rookie of the Year, ten All Star appearances, and two Olympic gold medals.
In all seriousness, Chris Paul was our first love and the energy he brought to those two Hornets seasons that started it all is a real part of our story, and I think we all love how it has come full circle. This team that he’s a part of this year has got to be one of the most fun teams to support in the whole history of the Thunder, and that’s saying something, because this has been an epic run given to us by Clay and his ownership group, and Danny and Sam and their respective leadership teams. Thank you to the Thunder for what you have meant to Oklahoma City.
Okay, forgive me that digression. Let’s get back to what MAPS 4 will do for our quality of life. It’s not just about entertainment. MAPS 4 will also contribute directly to our economic growth by making investments in the Innovation District, including an innovation hub, connectivity to surrounding districts, and a resource center for minority-owned small businesses. We know that one of the driving forces behind everything we do, everything I will talk about today, is creating an environment for more jobs, sustainable jobs, and higher-paying jobs. Oklahoma City’s current unemployment rate is 2.8 percent, and a study from Arizona State University recently declared us to be the #1 easiest city in the country in which to do business, but the modern economy is a hyper-competitive environment, and these MAPS 4 investments in the Innovation District are critical to ensuring that we retain our competitive edge.
Through the process of developing MAPS 4, we also expanded our definition of quality of life. We heard loud and clear that the people of our city wanted to see us take care of our human needs this time as well. So, MAPS 4 is investing in Palomar, our family justice center supporting victims of domestic violence, mental health crisis centers, an addiction center, a diversion hub to provide a better path for people interacting with the criminal justice system, and truly affordable housing to help address homelessness. By the way, the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community has declined 34 percent over the last twelve years. That’s an incredible trend and a story definitely not told enough. It is the result of hard work by many nonprofits and public servants who deserve our gratitude. But until that number is zero, we have work to do. MAPS 4 supports this, as will the vision of a task force I created last year led by Bob Ross and Sue Ann Arnall that is working with all interested parties to create a unified vision for addressing homelessness in our city.
All together, these MAPS 4 projects addressing human needs are ensuring that MAPS improves the quality of life for all our residents.
There’s at least one more MAPS 4 project I’ll touch on before we’re done today, but let me say one final word about the big picture things we accomplished on December 10th through the overwhelming passage of that initiative. As I’ve said, we continued the investments in our city. We addressed 16 critical challenges and opportunities that are woven throughout my remarks today. I can’t exaggerate how jealous other mayors and other cities are when they see us address 16 different issues in one fell swoop. We’ve come to think it’s routine, but other cities brag when they can tackle two or three of those things in a decade.
But here’s the last thing we accomplished. And it’s important because it undergirds all that we do. It is the secret sauce of this city. Once again, and perhaps more strongly than ever, we reminded the nation what compromise looks like. The ability to get things done through compromise was at much at stake as anything else on December 10th. No one person other than me probably liked all 16 projects, but each project was deeply desired by a significant part of our city. In fact, one public scientific poll released before the vote found that the least popular project was still desired by 58 percent of the city. But clearly, the projects in their totality represented a wide spectrum of worldviews. Sometimes during the campaign, and they thought they were saying something critical, people would say to me, “Well, you’re just trying to make everyone happy.” And I would say, “Yes! And what’s wrong with that?!” We as a nation have got to return to the ideal of win-win outcomes. For me to win, it does not have to be necessary for you to lose. We have to again embrace the philosophy that if your priority is addressed, it’s okay if someone else’s priority is addressed as well. We’ve been doing that to some extent for decades in Oklahoma City, but the divisiveness of current American politics and the many transitions we’re undergoing as a city could have absolutely caused us to implode in this effort. Instead, we doubled-down on unity and people from both political parties, different ethnicities, different parts of the city, and many generations all cast the same optimistic vote in December, as One OKC. Be proud of that, maybe above all else.
By the way, in the next month we’ll likely seat the MAPS 4 Citizens Advisory Board, and the real implementation will begin. In the months beyond that, we’ll seat the subcommittees directly overseeing the implementation of the projects. This is a long process, and we know from past experience that some projects won’t open for 10 to 12 years. So be patient and engaged. At some point in the near future, the trust will also be created to oversee the MAPS 4 endowments that will address operating costs for some of the projects. It was actually in this speech last year that I first introduced that endowment concept to you. You didn’t hate it, so we did it, and I think in the years ahead, we’ll judge it as one of the savviest things we’ve done as a city. To stay engaged with MAPS 4, by the way, I always encourage you to visit okc.gov/maps4.
I just mentioned how MAPS initiatives take a long time to implement, so while we’re still on the topic of quality of life, let’s take a moment to acknowledge all the MAPS 3 progress we’re still in the middle of. Of course, MAPS 3 was passed in 2009 through the efforts of Mayor Cornett, this Chamber, and many others. I mentioned the ridership success of the streetcar earlier, but since we last gathered, we opened what is really the jewel of MAPS 3 – Scissortail Park. Perhaps you were there. There were 28,000 people who came out for that celebration led by a special free concert by Kings of Leon. It was in fact the largest crowd to ever see a music concert in the history of our city. It was a magical night and some of us really got carried away. I think we all look forward to many more magical days and nights at Scissortail in the years ahead as the south park opens, and I am personally committed to a renovation of Union Station as well.
And anticipation is certainly growing for the opening of the MAPS 3 convention center and the adjacent Omni convention center hotel. We believe – fingers crossed – that the next time we all gather for this event, it will be in our brand new convention center. It is incredibly exciting what that facility will mean in the long run to our local economy, to the growth of downtown, and the secondary impact it will have on many other aspects of life, like air service. It’s a big deal, and we want to make sure we have the marketing dollars in place to maximize our potential as a visitor destination. Look for that conversation to pick up this year.
In the foreseeable future, we will also open the final two MAPS 3 senior wellness centers, one in South OKC and one in Northeast OKC. So even as MAPS 4 takes a beat to get off the ground, we still have a lot of ribbons in the pipeline to cut. And by the way, that MAPS 3 senior wellness center in Northeast is expected to share property with the new Northeast grocery store we are working towards in conjunction with Homeland.
Let’s talk about some of the other exciting quality of life developments happening in this city beyond MAPS.
We’ll start with the arts. We are now just days away from the opening of Oklahoma Contemporary. This is a remarkable development in the cultural life of our city, and my gratitude to Chris Keesee and everyone in the Kirkpatrick philanthropic world for making this happen for our city. This is going to be a special place. And just down the street from Contemporary, Factory Obscura continued its expansion this past year.
The music scene is exploding in OKC. We have long bragged on our ties to artists like the Flaming Lips, Charlie Christian, Wanda Jackson, Vince Gill, and Kings of Leon, and we recently celebrated a decade of hosting the Academy of Contemporary Music, ACM@UCO, and now we’re finally starting to have a local live music scene to match that pedigree. Venues are thriving all over town. One of the newest is my office. Every couple months, we host “City Hall Sessions” literally in my office to highlight musical talent. Check it out at OKC’s Youtube channel. We are also hosting more of the world’s biggest artists than ever before, thanks to renewed efforts at Chesapeake Energy Arena. To illustrate the improvement, in 2018, the arena hosted two concert tours from the top 50 list. In 2019, thanks to the leadership of Chris Semrau and his team at the arena, we hosted 11 of the top 50. And we’ve got a huge 2020 already lined up.
Our film industry is booming. A ton of credit goes to the State for its rebate program. Cities and towns across the state are enjoying the benefits, and we’re no exception. There was a week this winter where this city was lousy with Hollywood stars, working on multiple simultaneous productions. (pic of me and Jesse at Thunder game) That’s fun, but it’s not about that. It’s about being able to live in Oklahoma City and still make a living in the film industry. That career track is increasingly possible, thanks to the increase in productions and projects like the recently announced Green Pastures Studio.
In general, our arts community continues to thrive. Allied Arts leads the way working with dozens of other agencies to make sure that the cultural life of our city is strong. We know this matters. And, by the way, it is often overlooked, but thanks to our city’s “1 percent for art” ordinance, MAPS 4 also includes millions of dollars for public art. That art will one day join a portfolio that now includes a completed Land Run Monument. After two decades, the final piece of this incredible achievement was finally placed. I declared Paul Moore Day in OKC just last week to honor the remarkable work of Paul Moore, the living legend who created this masterpiece.
Moving beyond the arts but still talking about quality of life improvements - air service continues to improve. We just welcomed LaGuardia in New York City as a new nonstop destination. This joins other recent additions like Nashville, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington Reagan. This Chamber recently completed a study on air service that found we actually punch above our weight for a city our size. We’re up to almost 30 nonstop destinations now, and with a new terminal expansion underway, we will never have to say no. And the airplanes aren’t just going out anymore. Recently, Travel and Leisure named OKC one of the top 50 places to visit in the world. We know air service is important to our economy and we’ll keep working at it.
OKC is becoming a leading city in the international Olympics movement. For a long time, Bart and Nadia – you don’t even have to use their last names – have ensured our place in gymnastics, and we have long been the home of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame thanks to them. Of course, we’re always proud to be a place that honors the legendary Jim Thorpe. But it really became real when MAPS 3 constructed the whitewater RiverSport facility to go along with our unique take on Boathouse row. Then we became an official Olympic and Paralympic training city. We are hosting Olympic trials this spring and then right after the Tokyo Olympics we will host a showcase for the International Canoe Federation – the Super Cup. Meanwhile, the taxpayers committed nearly $30 million in 2017 to our softball stadium, and it too hosted the US Olympic trials for Tokyo. The Olympic movement is incredibly strong in Oklahoma City and we are grateful for the many visionaries who brought us to this point.
By the way, of course those investments in our softball stadium have also secured our place long-term as the host of the Women’s College World Series. We are truly the American home of softball and we are proud of that status.
There are no doubt many more aspects of Oklahoma City life improving daily that I could highlight today. Time just doesn’t allow it all, but it is a special thing to live in a city where good news seems to come through the door almost every day. I never take for granted these improvements to our quality of life, and I am heartened to think that with the passage of MAPS 4 they are sure to continue rolling for the next decade.
Let me now transition to the third thing I want to talk about today - public education. I was somewhat unique as a candidate for Mayor in 2017 and 2018 that I highlighted this as one of my top four priorities. That was unique because mayors don’t run the schools. In our system of government in this state we have completely separated cities and school districts. In fact, I have 24 school districts in the city limits of Oklahoma City. But even though we have separated these functions, I don’t think history tells us that silos are the recipe for success. Let me first begin by saying I have a long personal history with public education in this city. My father, Stroud Holt, who is with us today spent three decades as an English teacher in Putnam City Schools, one of our city’s largest districts. Even though he has been retired almost three decades, I am willing to bet at least one of his former students is in this room. That’s the power of a teacher. Thank you, dad, for your service to our young people.
I am personally the product of public schools in this city, having spent my entire education in Putnam City Schools, and my kids are now students in Oklahoma City Public Schools, our city’s largest district. By the way, let’s get a look at Rachel, George and Maggie, shall we? Thank you, guys, for everything.
I recognize that an attractive public education system is critical to our city’s success. At City Hall, we do what we can to support it in small ways and some medium ways. I try to read to kindergarten classes every Friday morning at a different Oklahoma City elementary school. Some day I’ll get to them all – there’s about a hundred. Every month, we honor a great teacher at our Council meetings. The City partners in the management of the OKCPS capital program, in a relationship dating back to MAPS for Kids. And the City is a strong participant in the Compact created by this Chamber to bridge the divides between the various power structures in our city. The Compact is a good baseline for what needs to occur next. It’s time for the entities in this city that have a track record of effecting change to have an intentional and high level conversation about where we are heading. We need a unified vision for public education in this city that gives us a narrative separate from the state’s and gives us something that we can all be working on together. And by the way, we have done this before.
Twenty years ago, our community came together under the umbrella of Project KIDS. It was a group composed of dozens of community leaders who worked for several years to develop a strategic plan to improve public education in OKC. Many of the same challenges they faced are the ones we face today. Project KIDS was a big picture, everything-is-on-the-table, visionary conversation that has to happen from time to time in any community where responsibilities have ben divided such as they are here. Project KIDS proposed some big stuff. One of the outcomes of that conversation twenty years ago was MAPS for Kids, the $700 million initiative to repair our school buildings in the core of the city. That was accomplished. Other proposals weren’t. But we had a community conversation and we developed a plan. Without that coordination and that conversation, MAPS for Kids never would have happened.
In fact, MAPS for Kids is a good example of something that could never have been accomplished by any one entity. It truly was a collaboration between OKCPS, the City of Oklahoma City, this Chamber, and the philanthropic community. Take away even one of those four from the equation, and MAPS for Kids isn’t possible. I know there are those big dreams out there now, and we often don’t even bother to bring them up because we know the right people aren’t in the room, the coalitions aren’t in place, and the focus isn’t there. I’m proposing to align those stars and let’s have that conversation again.
I’ve been teasing this for a couple years, so I think everyone is ready. I want to emphasize this is a collaborative conversation. I think my record of support for public education and my record of collaboration both speak for themselves. This should be viewed as an opportunity by all people who care about public education in our city to once again have everyone at the table ready to do big things. And let me emphasize, this isn’t an operational conversation. OKCPS board chair Paula Lewis, her board, superintendent Sean McDaniel and his leadership team – they have been doing that hard and necessary work, and I think we should all commend them for it. But this is a different conversation. This is where we talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own. This conversation will commence in the months ahead and it will include the public education leadership I’ve mentioned, the business leadership and the philanthropic leadership of this city. I have no preconceived notions about where the conversation goes, but I just know forward is where we have to go, and I believe a Mayor has an obligation to be a catalyst in getting us there.
Incidentally, my friend Mayor Bynum is envisioning a similar conversation in Tulsa, and you never know, some of the things that come out of our joint education conversations may actually be state issues. If that’s the case, we have partners we’ll be happy to approach. It’s worth noting that Oklahoma City Senator Greg Treat serves as the Pro Tem of the Senate, Oklahoma City Senator Kay Floyd serves as the Democratic leader, and Oklahoma City Representative Jon Echols serves as the House Majority Floor Leader. We are grateful for everyone who serves our City in the State Legislature.
Let me now touch upon the fourth and final topic I wanted to address today – incorporating the diversity of our city into our decision-making process. As you have heard me say for some time, the kids of our city are 60 percent non-white. Diversity is our reality, and if it is not represented at the leadership table, we need to build a bigger table.
As I reported to you last year, I have been about the work of diversifying our volunteer boards and commissions, and making sure that by the time I leave this office, the many decision-making bodies in our city reflect the diverse demographics, geography, generations and gender of our city.
In this most recent budget, we also created a chief diversity officer for our city, so that we can continue to ensure that our staff reflects our city, at all levels.
I have also continued to use my platform to lift up the many different communities in our city. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram you routinely journey with me to parts of our city you perhaps never knew existed. This is important. It is part of building the empathy and understanding that is necessary for 650,000 people in this city and 1.4 million people in this metro to co-exist.
I would submit to you that there was no better illustration of what happens when we broaden decision-making than the development and passage of MAPS 4. That package took the power of MAPS across our city unlike ever before, and that’s a big reason the city responded with record support, and support without geographic division. Previous MAPS have actually failed within some wards in our city. Not this one.
This brings me to the 16th and final MAPS project that I haven’t mentioned yet today. The restoration of the Freedom Center, construction of the Clara Luper civil rights center, and an endowment to operate it. This $25 million project would never have been possible in a city that wasn’t listening to all communities. Unfortunately, our city’s proud civil rights movement is something that has traditionally only been celebrated and taught in the African American community. Two years ago, when we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Katz drug store sit-ins, the name Clara Luper was foreign to many of our residents. In the decades ahead, thanks to this MAPS 4 project and the ongoing effort to commemorate the site of the sit-ins, just across the street from here, that will no longer be the case.
We see diverse communities within our city thriving like never before. The Latino community continues to become more integral to our city. Scissortail Park recently announced it will host our city’s Cinco de Mayo festival this year. I’ve been on stage at this event and I looked out on a crowd the size of Woodstock. Bringing that event into downtown will be a tremendous moment for our city. Though many members of our Latino community are of Mexican descent, that is not exclusively the case. As one example, we were excited this year to add our eighth Sister City – Piura, Peru, thanks to the efforts of Peruvians right here in OKC.
Our LGBTQ community hosted 120,000 people at the Pride Parade this year. Our city’s Pride Parade was the third-largest city in Oklahoma that day.
The Vietnamese, Asian, Indian, Pakistani, African, and Middle Eastern communities continue to grow and thrive and contribute. We host nationals from Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, Egypt – and that’s just the Thunder roster. There isn’t a nation on the planet that isn’t represented in some corner of our cosmopolitan city.
Our disability community continues the proud tradition of the Mayor’s Committee on Disability Concerns, there to always remind us that people of all abilities have a place in our city’s growth.
Our Native and Indigenous communities now firmly feel at home in our city, where we now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day each year and anticipation is growing for the opening of the First Americans Museum in 2021.
There’s been a real sea change in this city of late as communities that have felt ignored now feel included. It’s probably the number one comment I get when I’m just out and about, and it’s maybe the most meaningful thing anyone could say to me. Day by day, we’re making good on the promise of One OKC.
Now, as I conclude I would be remiss if I didn’t share some thoughts on what happened in this city 25 years ago and what it says about us today and in the years ahead.
Twenty-five years ago, words and thoughts of dehumanization and extremism turned into action, and an act of terror and violence was perpetrated on our city in the name of some absurd political cause. The horror that ensued left 168 of our people dead, thousands more injured and emotionally scarred, and millions of us affected. We are rightfully proud of how we responded, a response we now know as the Oklahoma Standard.
The pictures and names you see on these screens represent the 168 people who died that day, April 19, 1995. Many partners across our community are working with our wonderful Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum to honor these victims in the 168 days leading up to the 25th anniversary.
Our Memorial is a special place, and it will play an ever more important role as experience transitions to history. As that happens, it is important that each of us understands what Oklahoma City can mean to the rest of the world as the years pass by.
The Memorial is a place to honor our victims and survivors and first responders. It is a place to mark an important historical event. These are the ways the Memorial looks back. But in the years ahead, it will and must think forward. It will increasingly become a place also to confront the horrors of extremism and dehumanization. On the grounds of that site, all Americans who visit for generations to come should be shaken to their very core by the evil that humans are capable of. But when they exit those grounds and they see the rest of this city, they should experience the best that humanity has to offer. Call it the Oklahoma Standard, call it One OKC, call it love, call it empathy, call it whatever you want. But we know better than most Americans what happens when it is lost. That is the wisdom that each of us possesses for having lived here at any time in the last 25 years. We did not choose this obligation, it was given to us, but we must carry the load. So that these people will not have died in vain.
You know, there was a lot of talk around some elements of the MAPS 4 package that were intended to help all our residents, even some that were poor and destitute, some that were addicted to drugs, others that had committed crimes. It was a little different look, I suppose, and yet this city embraced it with record support. Perhaps MAPS 4 was evidence that our capacity for love is a little stronger here in Oklahoma City. We certainly already knew the incredible work that emanates from our hundreds of nonprofits and churches in this city. I think I could be Mayor for a hundred years and still learn of a new wonderful cause each day. I love seeing how we take care of each other. I loved seeing us find new ways to do so through MAPS 4. Perhaps we are ready to carry forward this obligation given to us on April 19th, to find common ground, to have better conversations, to support each other, to love each other, to lean on each other. Part of empathy is having the wisdom to know that today it may be your neighbor who bears the load, but tomorrow it may be you. So, be a friend, and help another carry on, for it won’t be long, till we will each need, somebody to lean on.
Performance of “Lean on Me” by Campbell Walker Fields and Classen choirs
Let’s hear it for Campbell Walker Fields, the Classen School of Advanced Studies Middle School Choir, and the Classen School of Advanced Studies at Northeast High School Choir!
Thank you for your time today and thank you for the honor of being your Mayor.