An Edmond mayoral election is often sedate. There are winners, and losers, and in the end, someone is selected by voters to lead the city.
But that’s not exactly the script this time around. Three men are on the Feb. 12 ballot. Former Mayor Dan O’Neil, Richard Prawdzienski and Charles Lamb, the most recent man elected mayor by Oklahoma’s sixth-most populous city.
That all sounds pretty standard, except Lamb died in his home in December not long after he filed to run for a fourth term. That means he’s still on the ballot, and his presence has cast a bizarre shadow on the race.
According to the city charter, in an Edmond mayoral primary election where there are three or more candidates, the two candidates receiving the most votes move on to the general election in April.
That’s where it gets tricky. If O’Neil and Prawdzienski are the top two candidates, they could face each other in the primary and in the general election.
But if Lamb finishes in the top two, he would advance despite being deceased. If he were to win the general election, the Edmond City Council would determine who to appoint to hold the city’s highest elected office.
A social media campaign would like Edmond voters to go in exactly that direction, according to a message posted on the “Vote for Charles” Facebook page.
“There are other qualified candidates who did not file out of respect for Mayor Lamb, and we should honor his legacy by voting for him and allowing our council to appoint a qualified person to lead our city,” the message read.
The campaign isn’t conjuring up images of Russian interference that colored the 2016 presidential election, however. The “Vote for Charles” page has just 75 likes and is followed by 90 people.
Both O’Neil and Prawdzienski are aware of the campaign, and they admit the election is unusual.
“I heard somewhere down the road they would decide if it went down that road,” Prawdzienski said. “It’s the rules that have been laid down, and I have to play by them. It just means I have to work harder.”
Lamb was a fixture in Edmond city politics. He served on the city council for 18 years before being elected mayor in 2013. O’Neil said he understands why some are loyal to him.
“I know he had a lot of people that had signed up to help him and who were going to vote for him,” O’Neil said. “I understand how they feel.”
Still, O’Neil doesn’t think Lamb would support the effort.
“I don’t think Charles would have ever advocated for something like that,” O’Neil said. “He lost elections and never got bitter about it. He was always focused on what’s best for the city.”
O’Neil: ‘Our town can be friendlier and prettier’
Despite Lamb’s presence in the race, both O’Neil and Prawdzienski have ideas should they become Edmond’s next mayor.
O’Neil, 72, served one term as Edmond’s mayor from 20007 to 2009. If elected this year, he said he would focus on continued improvement of the city’s roads.
“We need to improve our street paving and four lane roads, especially east of Interstate 35,” O’Neil said. “That’s a really bustling area out there.”
A retired federal employee, O’Neil would also like to see Edmond retain its small town charm, even as it moves past 90,000 residents.
“I think our town can be friendlier and prettier,” he said. “A lot of people are saying we’re a big city now, but we don’t need to look or act like it.”
O’Neil said he also supports expanding the city’s parks and trails.
Prawdzienski: ‘I hate to say the word cronyism, but…’
Prawdzienski, 71, is a semi-retired rental property owner and 10-year Marine Corps. veteran. He has run for a variety of Oklahoma offices in recent years, and he said he got into the race because he thinks Edmond’s city government needs more transparency.
“I hate to say the word cronyism, but it’s there, and we have a lot of it,” he said.
Prawdzienski said he would advocate for all of the city’s residents if elected.
“I want the people to have a bigger voice,” he said. “Right now, we have a small group of people who have the power now. A lot of people aren’t involved and don’t know what’s happening.”
Prawdzienski, who identifies as a Libertarian but ran as an independent for House District 39 in 2018, said Edmond has been too focused on developing big-ticket projects that aren’t properly planned or managed. He cited the city’s $400 million wastewater management facility as one example.
“A lot of people don’t really know about the wastewater facility,” he said. “But when they get their water bill, they’re probably going to be mad. And it could get worse. The entire debt could be close to $1 billion down the road.”
(Correction: This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, to note Richard Prawdzienski’s service in the U.S. Marine Corps accurately.)