Wednesday was the last day for filing to run in any of Oklahoma City’s city council races. Free Press has covered the preliminary stages of the elections closely and reported that 19 will run in wards 1,3,4, and 7.
We interviewed the candidates running in ward 4. Incumbent Todd Stone is running for his second term as city councilman and newcomers Sam Wargin and Larry Hopper are challenging him.
Ward 4 covers parts of South Oklahoma City and extends east past Tinker Air Force Base and south to Moore and Norman city limits. Each candidate comes from a different part of the ward and has different ideas for how to strengthen their community.
City council elections will be held February 9 and terms are set for four years with no term limits.
During this year, controversial issues have come before the council, including implementing a mask mandate and challenging a federal court ruling on a panhandling ordinance.
Despite believing in the effectiveness of masks, Stone voted against the city’s mask mandate as he urges constituents to practice personal responsibility instead.
However, he voted in favor of the emergency clauses that allowed the mask mandates to go immediately into effect. “I always voted for the emergency [clause] only because if it’s the wish of [the] council to do a mask mandate, [then] I get it,” Stone explained.
In terms of the panhandling ordinance, in 2015, the city council passed an ordinance that prohibited panhandling on medians in Oklahoma City. However, the measure was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in August this year.
In October, the city council voted on whether or not they wanted to challenge the ruling and Stone voted in favor of the challenge.
He explained that while he is against the ordinance, he supports the challenge because he was “trying to make sure that [he was] making the best decision [he could] for the average constituent in Oklahoma City.”
“I voted to send it on, but I’ll tell you that my reasoning had nothing to do with the ordinance,” Stone said. “I’m not a big fan of the ordinance, I’m just not a big fan of it.”
In terms of policies, Stone is a firm believer in economic investment. He said that he is most proud of the MAPS 4 program because it invested $50 million into affordable housing.
“There’s a visible change that’s in MAPS 4,” he said. “I think you’re starting to see it going from just trying to build a big shiny downtown to evolving into projects that will have more of a personal impact on more of the residents of Oklahoma City.”
Stone had other connections to ward 4 before being elected in 2017 because his son, Shane Stone, was the representative for House District 89—which is now represented by José Cruz—that covers parts of ward 4.
Outside of being a city councilmember, Stone has worked in home building and has started multiple businesses. He said that he is trying to exit the home building business because he is focusing on managing a company that delivers packages for Amazon with his daughter.
Wargin was born and raised on the south side of Oklahoma City, which is why he thinks he is most qualified for the position.
“Having a member of our community being a leader in city government will, I think, do wonders,” Wargin said. “In this position, I’ll be reaching out to this community and speaking with them, not just speaking for them.”
He mentioned that in recent years there has not been a true south-sider on the City Council representing ward 4.
Wargin explained that this lack of connection to the community led to decisions like challenging the panhandling ordinance court ruling.
“If you look at the details of [the vote to challenge the panhandling ruling by the federal appeals court], the five council members who voted for it are the furthest removed from the inner city and that’s where a lot of this panhandling goes on,” he explained.
Wargin wants to take a more people-focused approach as a city council member while also increasing economic development.
“I think we also need to put just as much attention if not more into the well being of our residents to ensure that they have access to resources and services that can help them improve their quality of life,” he explained.
Wargin wants to increase support for neighborhood associations and create more in the future. He believes that city government supporting neighborhood associations will create a link between communities and local government.
He mentioned that there are many city planning programs that could help the community but are not well advertised, including ones that help renters become homeowners.
The south side of Oklahoma City is split into multiple City Council wards, and Wargin would like to see that changed next year during redistricting. He believes the south side should have fewer wards.
“South Oklahoma City, as far as the ward districts, is so divided unnecessarily and it has the effect limiting our communities voting power and influence,” he said.
Wargin is currently in his second year of law school at the University of Oklahoma and worked as a high school teacher.
Hopper has been living in ward 4 for nearly 40 years and believes that his experience in urban planning makes him qualified for the position. He worked as a senior planning manager for Oklahoma City and left February to work as a freelance urban planner.
“I’ve been interested in city and regional issues for really all of my adult life,” Hopper explained. “I was a student of it and then basically a practitioner as an urban planner in a wide range of different topics.”
Hopper has organized his campaign into five issues, which are the economy, community cohesion, transportation, public health, and beautification.
He wants to see more investment in job training in ward 4 and focus on the technology sector.
“Ward 4 is important to the city’s and state’s economy, thanks to Tinker Air Force Base, but my thought is that there really is a need to add even more jobs in Ward 4, especially in areas related to the technology sector,” he said.
Hopper lives in the middle of the ward and he considers his region to be diverse due to the influx of people who move there to work at Tinker Air Force Base. His experience living in a diverse community has caused him to emphasize the importance of multiculturalism.
“Ward 4 has such a rich diversity of people…and these cultures and races are so important,” said Hopper.
He was the president of the Gold Dome Multicultural Society and supported the city council when they created a task force for police reform.
If elected, Hopper will focus on the pandemic first and foremost by trying to make Oklahoma City’s budget prioritize people’s needs first.
Free Press will continue to cover races for the open ward seats as the campaigns develop between now and February, 2021.
Last Updated December 13, 2020, 12:28 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor