Lee E. Cooper, Jr. was sworn in as interim Ward 7 Oklahoma City Councilman Tuesday to fill the seat of John Pettis, Jr. who resigned in May.
He is a native of the east side of Oklahoma City and the pastor of Prospect Missionary Baptist Church since 1987.
Extended family and a large contingent of his church members gave several standing ovations during the ceremony.
Federal Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange gave the oath of office.
After adjournment, he told Free Press that the reason he took the appointment by the Council was that it was “an opportunity to serve.”
“I am not a politician. I am a public servant,” Cooper told us. “And so it was an opportunity for me to continue to serve and to do something to make a difference … .”
“I don’t know who the [next] Councilperson will be, but I didn’t want us to regress,” the pastor said.
After serving four years on the Oklahoma City Planning Commission, Cooper was chosen because of his extensive experience in City Hall, the respect he commands in Ward 7, and his vow to not run for the permanent seat.
He will serve in that post until a permanent council member is chosen either in the special election non-partisan primary Aug. 28 or in a runoff Nov. 6.
Eight people have filed to run for the remainder of Pettis’s term. If none receive a majority of the votes in the August primary, the top two will be in the runoff Nov. 6.
Pettis “served well”
In our conversation, Cooper talked about the hurt that people on the east side feel about the events that led to former Councilman John Pettis, Jr.’s resignation under a cloud of embezzlement and income tax charges.
Cooper said Pettis was a champion of the east side. “I know the work he was able to accomplish.”
“And so, I want to be clear about the fact that he served and he served well. He was representing. I think it’s just unfortunate what transpired.”
Bring people back
The resignation of Pettis and the charges brought against him brought hurt and a feeling of separation, said the pastor.
And so his agreeing to be on the Council was a way of trying to bring people back. But, there is much history to overcome.
“To be quite honest, the city of Oklahoma City has not always been a good partner — not acted in good faith,” Cooper said.
“And so, for many, they sense this disconnection, really, this disenfranchisement with City Hall and they really don’t care.”
But, in spite of a long history in a city that had persistent southern-style legal segregation from 1907 until the 1960’s, Cooper is determined to continue to look forward and keep pulling his community back to City Hall.
“We’re moving forward. We’re going to continue to do that. So we’re excited about that.”