OKC Ward 3
Barbara Young and Jessica Martinez-Brooks will face off for the OKC Ward 3 City Council seat Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (NonDoc)

When OKC Ward 3 councilman Larry McAtee announced he would end his 20-year run on the OKC City Council, it created an opening that drew six candidates to the race. Now, only two remain standing, as Barbara Young and Jessica Martinez-Brooks face off Tuesday for all the proverbial marbles.

It’s a contrast in visions. One candidate favors immediate solutions to problems that Oklahoma City’s south side faces, while another looks to the future at what might be in the coming years and decades.

Signs point to a close race. Martinez-Brooks led all candidates in the February election with 29 percent. Young was a close second with 26 percent.

Meet the candidates

Martinez-Brooks is a 20-year educator who has spent much of that time helping students graduate from high school and get into college. She has also served as a volunteer for a variety for civic organizations, according to her website. She is married to Oklahoma State Sen. Michael Brooks (D-OKC).

Young has worked for Lowe’s Travel Stops as a merchandising manager for more than 500 of the company’s locations. She is also active in several organizations, including serving as a board member for the YWCA of Oklahoma City, the National Association of Women in Construction and the Oklahoma Women Run Foundation. She and her husband, Michael, have been longtime residents of south Oklahoma City.

Ward 3 issues

Young bills herself as a conservative voice who is not an ideologue on her website. If elected, she says she will fight regulations, oppose taxes and safeguard tax dollars by only voting for ideas she believes will advance the city and her ward. But most of all, she’s about solving problems that face the ward right now. Young doesn’t believe the south side always gets a fair shake when it comes to city projects.

“If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 5,000 times: Ward 3 residents want their roads fixed, and they are tired of waiting,” Young said. “Tired of reading about new bike lanes and curbs and amenities in other areas of the city while we’re replacing tires and rims just trying to get to and from school and work. We need to be prioritized, and I’ll be a vocal advocate for that.”

Martinez-Brooks has a similar view, but she also has an eye to bigger projects that she says are necessary to cope with the ward’s growth in recent years. Martinez-Brooks said her time on the city’s Water Utility Trust has shown her the value of long-term planning.

“Ward 3 is one of the largest and fastest growing wards in OKC,” she said. “It’s diverse in so many ways. It’s urban, suburban and some rural. There are many large public school districts within my ward, and it traverses three different counties: Oklahoma, Canadian and Cleveland. There has been a steady increase in new housing and business developments over the past few years and a huge demand for more growth. With that comes an impact on our local schools and a greater need for infrastructure investment, especially in roads, utilities and public safety.”

Citywide issues

Young sees the city-wide issues slightly differently. She said infrastructure maintenance and improvement, job creation and fully funding the city’s police department are her top priorities if elected.

Martinez-Brooks has vowed to work to improve all of the above. She also believes the city needs to improve the quality of its roads which she says will aid economic development in the long term.

Martinez-Brooks praised past MAPS votes, but she said making sure those projects can be maintained and that community partnerships are cultivated will be crucial to their future success. She said she is excited about projects that will directly affect the south side, including the creation of a park in Canadian County that lies within Ward 3’s boundaries.

Role of a city councilperson

If elected, Martinez-Brooks sees herself as someone who will listen and work to solve problems facing citizens in her ward. She said listening is one of the most important parts of a councilperson’s job.

“I believe the role of a city council member is to be a resource to help address issues through consistent and responsive communication,” she said. “I also want to serve as a connector by bringing key partners and government and education leaders to the table to engage in conversation to help problem solve or ensure a project is implemented appropriately. Your local government impacts your daily life more than any other level, whether it’s first responders, drainage or street repair. Residents have to feel engaged to make this system work.”

Young sees her potential role on the council as purely a representative for those in her ward.

Council members are very limited in their roles of oversight, and we have to really make sure that our votes for or against represent our residents and that words we speak from the horseshoe are a good representation of the majority,” she said.

Both candidates said they’ve learned a lot about Oklahoma City, their ward and the people who populate it in their time running for the council. 

“Our voters are smart and engaged in what’s going on,” Young said. “They know how to do their research to learn more about candidates’ policy alignments going beyond the doorstep discussions, for example by checking Federal Election Commission contributions on the candidates to see where we spend our time, talent and treasure on other candidates with whom we align.”
Martinez-Brooks said she has learned to stay off social media and lean on friends and family during the campaign, and also that residents need to feel like they have a stake in their community.
“Residents have to feel engaged to make this system work,” she said. “That means showing up to listen at HOA or neighborhood association meetings and building trust. Listening to area concerns and ensuring our city is responsive to local issues. Technically this is a part-time position. However, with all of the work you need to do outside of council to build these relationships, it quickly becomes a full-time position.”