In the culmination of two years worth of debate over city leadership, Larry Heikkila defeated incumbent Norman Mayor Breea Clark in today’s runoff election, which featured significantly more turnout than the city’s 2019 race.
Heikkila received 53.39 percent of the vote, compared to 46.61 for Clark, who was seeking her first reelection after winning in 2019. The election results listed online are unofficial until they are certified by the Oklahoma State Election Board.
At a packed election watch party in Norman on Tuesday night, Heikkila called for a more conservative Norman and encouraged other conservative candidates to run for upcoming City Council seats.
“Let’s work this out so that we can make the town that we want and help me define it,” he told supporters. “This is amazing. I give this to God.”
Heikkila is a 26-year Navy veteran. He moved to Norman in 1978 and was a longtime City of Norman employee who now sits on several Cleveland County citizen boards. He began his quest to become Norman’s mayor amid a crowded field of five candidates that took part in February’s general election. Heikkila got 32 percent of the primary vote, and Clark received 36.5 percent. Some political observers viewed those results as Heikkila having momentum.
Heikkila told NonDoc he decided to run in the wake of the Norman City Council’s decision to shift more than $850,000 of a planned increase in the police budget to other municipal programs. The vote occurred in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.
“First off, the defunding of the police department, they managed to truly deflate our wonderful police department that used to be a premier agency in Oklahoma,” Heikkila said last month. “They’ve taken the force from 180 to 150, and their salaries are really low. The fire department is down 8 or 9 percent, and police is down about 7 percent. I assume it’s the DNC agenda, but we don’t like that here. That’s not who we are. I also don’t like the university elite hijacking Norman’s government. I think there’s a lack of trust with what they did with our money.”
Floyd’s death led to efforts across the country to reduce police funding, but calls to “defund the policy” also gave birth to a movement among people who opposed the idea.
One group, Unite Norman, attempted to recall Clark later that year, falling short of the required number of signatures required to trigger a recall election.
Loss ends nearly a decade in city politics
In the end, Clark survived the recall effort but could not prevail against Heikkila.
Clark became Norman’s 60th mayor in 2019 after serving three years on the City Council. She also serves as director of the J.C. Penney Leadership Program in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma.
Clark had planned to make this her final term as mayor.
“Whoever is at the helm of the ship doesn’t need a learning curve,” she said last month. “I felt like it would be a disservice to my community and my legacy of service and all that we’ve accomplished over the last three years to walk away. I told everyone I have one more term left in me and then someone else can have all the fun.”
The turnout in Tuesday’s election significantly eclipsed the turnout in 2019. In that race, 13,068 total votes were cast. On Tuesday, the total ballooned to more than 24,000.
At a watch party Tuesday night, Clark told supporters she will weather the loss.
“I want you to know that I felt like I was the best person for the job, and Norman residents decided otherwise, and I will handle that,” she said before congratulating Heikkila on his victory.
Clark encouraged Norman residents to address the city’s challenges and to shop local, regardless of whomever has the job.
“I will do everything in my power to support Mayor-elect Heikkila as he faces these challenges,” she said.
Helen Grant victorious in Norman Ward 4
Helen Grant won the Norman City Council Ward 4 seat Tuesday, defeating opponent Gale Hobson. Grant won 54.41 percent of the vote, compared to 45.59 for Hobson.
Grant, who works at Oscillator Press in Norman and serves on several municipal committees, ran on a platform of bridging the divide between Norman’s urban core and its outlying areas. She was endorsed by Sally’s List and the Red Earth Group, Norman’s Sierra Club affiliate.
Ruggiers wins Norman school board race
Newcomer Alex Ruggiers defeated longtime incumbent Dan Snell in the race for Norman Public Schools Board of Education Office No. 2. Ruggiers picked up 64.17 percent of the vote, compared to Snell’s 35.83.
Snell had served on the school board for more than two decades. Ruggiers is a former Norman Public Schools teacher, and he said his election shows that the community wanted to give teachers a voice.
“I’m really excited about the win tonight,” Ruggiers said. “It looks like Norman was really ready to put a teacher on the school board,” Ruggiers said.
Asked his priority now that he is elected, Ruggiers said he wants to ensure families trust the district.
“I think Norman Public Schools could use a lot more transparency. I’ll really start digging into the budget,” Ruggiers said. “Mostly we just need to assure the public that they can trust Norman Public Schools. There has been a little bit of mistrust that has built up over the last couple of years.”
Norman water proposition fails
A proposition that would have raised the base fee charged to Norman residents who use city water services failed Tuesday, capturing just 45.75 percent of the vote.
The proposition called for the monthly base fee to all customers to be raised from $6 to $7.80 for metered users. Incremental increases based on water usage were also included in the proposition.