5 minute read

The week after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt rolled out his latest plan for irresponsible governance, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt made several appearances across the cable news spectrum to talk about what was happening in his city.

Opinion
George Lang is the opinion writer for Free Press. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Holt discussed his own plans in the wake of Stitt’s cowboy move to allow restaurants, dining rooms, movie theaters, sports venues and gyms to reopen May 1, which he announced after only one day of dropping coronavirus rates in the state.

“Data is critical, and I should say we’re not moving forward if there is some sudden change in the next four days,” Holt said in an April 27 interview with MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki.

“We’re going to be monitoring data every day between now and then. Obviously, we seem to be in a decent position relative to other places and we appear just barely to meet the White House criteria as of last Friday, but we’re going to keep watching it.

“If there’s a sudden shift, if there’s a spike, then obviously this experiment has failed and we have to go back to an earlier phase,” Holt said.

This came just a few days after what many people on social media regarded as a remarkable and candid speech by the mayor. In an era of political discourse in which unalloyed lies are the order of the day, Holt seemed genuinely ambivalent about reopening businesses this early in the pandemic.

“I have very mixed emotions about this. You likely do as well,” Holt said. “In fact, I think this is the hardest speech I’ve given in this pandemic. But as I have thought about this, I recognize that I would always have mixed emotions, because until there is a vaccine or a treatment, there simply is no right answer.

“We could be standing here talking about June 1 or July 1 and I would feel almost the same,” he said. “I’m never going to stand here with a big smile on my face until the day we have a vaccine or a proven treatment. Until then, every new phase is an uncomfortable balancing act.”

Opinion

From George Lang, our lead opinion columnist

From both practical and political standpoints, Stitt boxed in the mayors of Oklahoma’s largest cities.

Because the smaller towns in metro areas would be following the governor’s plan, it would have been untenable and unenforceable if Holt chose to go against the state on this. Mark my words: everyone who considers shirt-shaped American flags a viable clothing option would be storming city hall.

At first, I was disappointed in Holt for not defying Stitt’s order — I had hoped that he, Breaa Clark of Norman and G.T. Bynum of Tulsa would stand on principle against Stitt, who is opening Oklahoma without the recommended 14 days of sustained decreases in statewide COVID-19 cases.

But Stitt played his trump card, which is, in fact, a Trump card: business interests in this state are taking precedence over public safety. I came to the conclusion that there was no upside to Holt standing in front of the tank Stitt was pointing at him.

Mayors are apolitical positions by design. The needs of a city must be met regardless of party affiliation and mayors who pump their ideology into civic governance typically create disasters.

In 2001, then-mayor Kirk Humphreys and Oklahoma City Council banned Pride flags from being hung from Oklahoma City’s streetlights. Cimarron Alliance sued the city and two years later the ban was reversed, but not before this unforced error embarrassed Oklahoma City on a national scale.

More than any Oklahoma City mayor in recent memory, Holt seems to understand that he is not simply the mayor of 621 square miles. He is the mayor to every single person who lives in this city, and his April 24 speech showed who he is as a civic leader.

But here is where we stand, and more specifically, it is where Holt stands. On April 27, there were only 27 new cases of coronavirus in Oklahoma. The next day, on April 28, that number shot up to 130. We are not in a steady decline by any measure.

Holt will have to watch these numbers carefully, and I do not envy his position. When people get sick and when people die in Oklahoma City, Holt will have to measure those coronavirus incidences against the desire of Oklahoma City residents to get out of their homes and area businesses to get back to normal.

Of course, we can help Holt by being smart and not acting like grounded teenagers begging to be released, because barring any sudden announcement of a vaccine, staying home and maintaining social distancing is the only way to flatten the curve. We need to act like the adults we purport to be.

The streets are almost abandoned in cities far more densely populated than our own. And yet, last weekend my son and I were walking the dogs in a nearby neighborhood and passed a house where a party was in full swing. It was a big party with more than a dozen cars outside, and we’re both fairly certain we heard someone vomit in the backyard.

I say this because it was prima facie proof that people among us are not taking COVID-19 seriously, and due to that kind of behavior and the fact that our streets and our parking lots are way too busy given the circumstances, any further loosening of restrictions is unlikely to go well in the short term.

And so, I am glad Holt appears to have his eye on the ball because I am almost certain that the governor does not. Based on what he said April 24 and during subsequent news interviews, Holt appears to know the gravity of his situation.


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