After a tumultuous couple of years in local politics, voters in Norman will be asked to choose their next mayor in the primary election on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Five candidates are in the running, including incumbent Mayor Breea Clark, who was first elected in 2019 and has faced controversy for much of her time in office.
In 2020, the group Unite Norman was created to oppose the Norman City Council’s decision to redirect a planned budget increase for the Norman Police Department. The group spearheaded an attempt to recall Clark and council members who had supported the funding move, though the effort ultimately failed when organizers fell short of the required signatures needed.
Two mayoral candidates have emerged from the ranks of Unite Norman, including optometrist and Air National Guard veteran Dr. Nicole Kish and Larry Heikkila, a former City of Norman employee.
Also in the race are Alice Stephenson-Leuck, a retiree who calls herself an “unlikely candidate,” and longtime Norman business owner “Midway” Bob Thompson, who represented Norman’s Ward 1 from 2005 to 2009.
In addition to the controversy over police funding, Norman politics have been marked recently by personality clashes and disagreements over how to deal with the city’s homeless population.
Early voting is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 4, and polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for Election Day on Tuesday, Feb. 8. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will face off on April 5.
The following candidate profiles were assembled from publicly available information, and candidates are presented in alphabetical order. For video interviews with each candidate, view conversations that all five candidates had with Reese Gorman of The Norman Transcript.
Breea Clark (incumbent)
Profession: Current mayor of Norman and director of the J.C. Penney Leadership Center at the University of Oklahoma.
Experience: Before her election as mayor in 2019, Clarke served for three years as Ward 6 councilwoman.
According to her LinkedIn page, Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wichita State University and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. She previously worked in the office of academic integrity programs at the university.
Clark recently contracted the novel coronavirus during a work-related trip to Costa Rica, forcing her to quarantine in that country and briefly taking her off the campaign trail. Shortly after returning, Clark received social media criticism for tweeting photos of herself and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) maskless at an annual political gathering called the Speaker’s Ball.
Platform: Beyond the 2020 debate about police funding, Clark’s first term in office turned contentious after she supported some of the most significant pandemic restrictions in the state, including mask requirements and business restrictions, which were challenged and halted by a judge. Almost two years later, Clark has focused her reelection campaign on relatively nonpartisan issues.
She said in an interview with the OU Daily that she would like to build more affordable housing and improve the city’s infrastructure, including Norman’s notoriously problematic storm water runoff problems. Efforts to address that problem failed in 2019.
Accomplishments touted on her campaign website include coordinating the sharing of COVID-19 vaccine information and working with community members to decide the destination of reallocated funds.
Interviews: OU Daily
Profession: Semi-retired, Heikkila served in the U.S. Navy for 26 years and worked for the City of Norman for 17 years, according to his website. He also spent eight years with OU’s physical plant.
Experience: During his time working for the City of Norman, Heikkila was a street supervisor, personnel analyst and safety manager.
Heikkila is chairman of both the Cleveland County Excise Board and the Cleveland County Equalization Board and is vice chairman of the Tax Roll Correction Board. He is also a member of the Cleveland County Industrial Authority.
He was endorsed by Norman’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 122 after the organization initially declined to endorse a candidate. Heikkila has also received the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2067.
Platform: Heikkila bills himself as a conservative who decided to run for mayor after the police funding controversy. He says on his website that he prayed for a “champion who could bring a mayoral change to Norman.” He says God directed him to write up his résumé and, afterward, “The Lord told me I was that champion.”
On his website, Heikkila says current city leadership “caters to the homeless” and pursues the “agenda of the progressive elite.” He says wants to focus on the city’s infrastructure and on working to restore the public’s trust in city government in order to support the future economic development in the city.
Profession: Optometrist and former Oklahoma Air National Guard captain.
Experience: Born in Canada, Kish became an American citizen in 1999. She co-founded Unite Norman in the wake of Norman’s police funding controversy in 2020. According to her website, she had “never been particularly keen on politics” until that point.
Kish recently called a press conference to express concern about a battery allegation against Norman City Councilman Kelly Lynn. She said Lynn had sent her “attacking” text messages late at night. Lynn had previously served as Kish’s attorney in a lawsuit against three people who had posted on social media about her being in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. The lawsuits were eventually dismissed. Kish has said she was in Washington on Jan. 6 for President Donald Trump’s speech, but she said she did not go to the Capital building.
Platform: If elected, Kish has said she would focus on reducing spending on unnecessary projects and expenses.
She has said she wants to increase funding for the city’s police department, which she says needs to be “re-funded.” She would also work to expand youth sports programs and activities.
Kish has been endorsed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Experience: Leuck is making her first run for political office.
Platform: Stephenson-Leuck has said she decided to run after the police funding controversy in 2020. She said in an interview with the Norman Transcript that, if elected, she would require the Riverwind Casino to fund the construction of a homeless shelter because she believes the casino draws homeless people to the city.
She promised that if she is elected she will donate a portion of her salary to police to fund a new police car. Speaking of salary, the Transcript reported that Stephenson-Leuck initially believed Norman’s mayor made more than $150,000 per year. The mayor makes about $100 per month.
Profession: Owner of Midway Deli in Norman.
Experience: Thompson is a former city councilman for Ward 1 and has lived in Norman for more than 40 years. He also chaired the Norman Charter Review Commission.
Platform: If elected, Thompson has said he will focus on economic development, addressing the city’s homeless situation and reducing Norman’s partisan division, which he believes has been elevated in recent years and will prevent the city from solving problems.
He has also discussed finding a solution to the city’s storm water drainage problem. Thompson is proposing a bond issue to raise funds necessary to fix the problem.
He has criticized the Norman City Council’s 2020 decision regarding police funding on the grounds that it was done “without careful process.”
Interviews: OU Daily