(Update: On Tuesday, June 28, Cathy Cummings won the Democratic primary election for Oklahoma County Commission District 3 and will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.)
Two Democrats, Cathy Cummings and Jay Bridwell, are running for Oklahoma County Commission District 3. Both are focused on bringing better services to the district, and both oppose the $260 million bond proposal to build a new Oklahoma County jail, but they differ in where they think the county should prioritize its investments.
Cummings spent five years serving on The Village City Council, starting in 2017. She stepped down in December in order to continue her county commissioner campaign after The Village was redistricted out of District 3 and into District 1.
Cummings was the de facto Democratic nominee for Oklahoma lieutenant governor in 2014, but she lost to Todd Lamb in the general election, receiving only 31.5 percent of the vote. She also owns and operates Vito’s Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Oklahoma City. Her husband, Sean Cummings, currently serves as The Village’s City Council representative in Ward 4, and operates an adjoining restaurant, Sean Cummings’ Irish Pub.
Bridwell is a 24-year U.S. Air Force veteran who currently serves as the director of support services at the Homeless Alliance. Additionally, Bridwell serves as the vice president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is the mental health advisor for Warriors for Freedom.
Bridwell holds a master’s degree in social work and public administration from the University of Oklahoma, according to his campaign website. This is his first time running for office.
The winner of the June 28 Democratic primary will face the winner of the four-candidate GOP primary in the Nov. 8 general election.
Early voting is open through 2 p.m. today. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28.
Mental health decriminalization, broadband access
Both Bridwell and Cummings mentioned that District 3 covers a wide range of communities with a variety of needs.
“When it comes to the various areas in District 3, not only are we navigating services for folks that live in Deer Creek, Edmond, Luther and Arcadia, but we also have folks that are most vulnerable in the northern part of Oklahoma City that we have to navigate,” Bridwell said. “There’s quite a difference of cultures that we have to make sure that we’re getting the best quality of life for. I think that’s the unique opportunity for us as a county commissioner in District 3 — to bridge those cultures together.”
One of Bridwell’s top priorities if elected is to increase access to mental health resources across the district. He wants to work work with local mental health organizations and government agencies to “bring those systems online.”
He also wants to bring more transparency to the Oklahoma County Commission and educate constituents on what the commission does.
“That’s what I get on the trail — folks don’t know what a county commissioner does,” Bridwell said. “They don’t know anything about the budget, they don’t know anything about operations, so I want to bring more transparency to our folks in District 3.”
When speaking about the various communities within District 3, Cummings said she sees Edmond as a “big block.”
Cummings said she reached out to Josh Moore, the City Council member for Edmond’s largest ward, Ward 2, and she learned that broadband access is a major issue in the area.
“He has a lot of undeveloped land in his ward, a lot of the homes are kind of in pockets, and so a lot of them are older neighborhoods and they can’t get access to broadband,” Cummings said. “The infrastructure is in place, but, I think it’s Cox who they deal with, they want the actual citizens to pay for it, and it’s just too much money.”
In May, the Legislature passed a bill creating a state broadband office, with the intent of delivering high-speed internet to 95 percent of Oklahomans by 2028. Cummings wants to coordinate a partnership between the state and Oklahoma County to bring broadband services to District 3.
“We need to work with Oklahoma County communities to advocate to that state broadband office to achieve countywide services,” Cummings said.
Both candidates oppose jail bond proposal
Cummings called the June 28 bond proposal that would earmark $260 million to fund a new county jail an “absolute and utter no,” adding that she hoped Oklahoma County residents would “see through the muck.”
“I’m not opposed to a new jail. I’m opposed to this,” Cummings said. “I would rather see at least one mental health facility or a series of mental health facilities built first, and that way we can address those problems that we have right now.”
Cummings also said that if a new jail is built, it needs to be run by “anyone but the jail trust.”
Bridwell said he has already submitted his “no” vote via absentee ballot.
“We’re building a jail that is bigger in size and basing the projection off of Oklahoma County growth, which I think is the wrong formula to use,” Bridwell said.
Bridwell also voiced concerns regarding the maintenance costs of a new county jail.
“We build these capital projects, but there’s really no sustainment piece built into the bond proposal,” Bridwell said.
Cummings: ‘In this position, I think experience matters’
Asked what sets him apart from Cummings as a candidate, Bridwell answered frankly.
“I think really the difference is I’ve worked with our most vulnerable population for the last eight and a half years, and that I’m a veteran and I’ve worked a lot of projects — multibillion dollar projects — while I was in the military,” Bridwell said. “And also, the biggest difference is that she has more governmental experience in a municipality.”
Cummings pointed to that government experience when asked why voters should choose her over Bridwell.
“I’ve met Jay, I think he’s a great guy. I know he’s doing a lot of great work with the Homeless Alliance. But I think in this position, I think experience matters,” Cummings said. “I feel like I do have that experience and the know-how for this job and making those critical decisions when it comes to those multimillion dollar projects and dealing with contracts.”
Asked what he would tell prospective voters concerned about him not having held public office before, Bridwell said his prior work experience has prepared him to serve the County Commission.
“In the military and working in nonprofits, you have to work office politics, and you have to work diplomacy in any relationship,” Bridwell said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have that experience and be diplomatic when it comes conversations and getting policy pieces pushed through.”
Sean Cummings, Cathy Cummings’ husband, has voiced strong criticism of Oklahoma County Commissioners Kevin Calvey and Brian Maughan in the past. Asked if she would request that her husband be more tactful if she were elected to the District 3 seat and had to work with the other commissioners, Cathy Cummings said she “would always want him to stand up and speak out.”
“I think he takes it to the extreme, you know, because I think that passion gets the best of him,” Cummings said. “But I would never ever deny him or anyone their right to speak.”
Read the campaign finance reports from each candidate
According to the latest reports, Bridwell’s campaign spent $1,140.96 during the quarter and ended the reporting period with $3,025.75 in remaining funds. Cummings reported spending $11,613.71 and had $29,151.06 remaining.