The race for Oklahoma City Ward 2 played out before the Oklahoma County Election Board and Oklahoma Supreme Court before the first ballot in the Feb. 14 election was cast.
In December, Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper challenged the residency of potential opponent Chris Cowden on grounds that Cowden had not been a registered voter and resident at his present address for the one-year timeframe required by the city charter.
Cowden was struck from the ballot on Dec. 13 by the county board and appealed to have his case heard before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After a referee hearing earlier last month, the court ultimately declined to hear his case, meaning the election board’s decision to strike Cowden from the ballot stood.
That decision more or less cleared the field for Cooper with his opponents reduced to two people who have only pursued limited campaigns: Alex DeShazo and Weston Storey.
Ward 2 stretches from Northwest 23rd Street on its southern border to Britton Road. It includes Penn Square Mall and the Paseo Arts District.
Voters in Oklahoma City wards 5, 6 and 8 will also head to the polls Feb. 14 for the city’s primary election. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent support in any race, a general election between the top two finishers will be held April 4.
James Cooper (incumbent)
Cooper was first elected in 2019. He has taught at several schools and colleges, including Oklahoma City University.
Responding to questions emailed to each candidate, Cooper said his experiences as a teacher and earlier as a student have guided him in his approach to city government. While in office, Cooper has worked to reestablish the city’s human rights commission and to improve bus transportation throughout the city.
“City government must prioritize our neighborhoods and children, if we’re serious about addressing our ongoing public education crisis and continuing OKC’s renaissance story,” Cooper said. “With a second term, I’ll continue to make our ward more walkable, better connect neighborhoods with reliable public transportation, and link city services to our people. Together, we’ll honor local history, build on accomplishments, heal from this pandemic, and work to improve the quality of life for all who call OKC home.”
Ward 2 includes Uptown, Jefferson Park and the historic Britton District within its borders. The ward is also home to some of the city’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. Cooper said making sure MAPS 4 and Better Streets projects are executed are among the most pressing issues facing Ward 2 and the rest of the city. But even once those projects are completed, Cooper said work remains.
“Public works (department) estimates $1.5 billion remain to address resurfacing needs and, recently, they requested a dedicated streets funding source,” Cooper said. “For decades, we delayed this work—which should include traffic calming and street cleaning—and, we must make it a priority, particularly with OKC’s next bond package.”
Cooper said the city also needs to continue to reduce its homeless population and develop more affordable housing. He called those two issues OKC’s “existential need.”
“OKC’s affordable housing study says — from 2010-2019 — we have 19,400 residents needing one-to-two bedroom housing and 3,600 available. We have 7,000 residents with three-to-five bedroom housing needs, 21,700 available and—disturbingly—too many developers built this housing type mostly along our city’s outer rung,” Cooper wrote. “OKC’s next bond must address this $1.2 billion need.”
Cooper said incentivizing the revitalization of dilapidated historical buildings into mixed-use housing developments and community cultural centers would be one way to add housing.
“I’m working to identify, preserve, and rehab one-to-two-bedroom housing, and our bond should build this housing, focusing on median-income workers like in education, public health, public safety, and our service industry,” he wrote. “Same for families wanting to live in OKC’s urban core needing 3-5-bedroom housing. We must acknowledge residents’ housing needs vary, and we must make sure our inventory includes affordable homes for homeowners and renters.”
Cooper doesn’t oppose public money for infrastructure projects like a new arena for the Thunder but he would like to see the team pick up its share of the expense. Moreover, he’d like a new arena to create jobs for those who need them most.
“If we’re going to ask voters to build a new Thunder arena and concert venue, my sincere hope is we make sure any proposal addresses arena worker and community needs,” Cooper said.
Cooper cited how Milwaukee’s city council required that city’s new NBA arena to hire at least 40 percent of its employees from the ranks of the unemployed, with that city providing job training as necessary.
“I’d like to learn more about this approach, and I suspect it’s quite possible an arena proposal could work to address the needs in the surrounding community,” he wrote. “I’d also like our team’s owners to contribute financially to any new arena, as well, so this effort is collaborative, which makes sense considering how much Thunder and this concert venue mean to the city of OKC and our people.”
Cooper has raised about $45,000 for his re-election campaign, according to campaign finance reports while opponent Alex DeShazo did not file a report.
DeShazo, 22, did not respond to multiple email messages by NonDoc. In December, he told the Oklahoma City Free Press he would bring a different perspective to the city council given his age.
“When it comes down to it, I have set ideas of what needs to be fixed, but everybody’s going to have a different idea,” DeShazo told the Oklahoma City Free Press “And being able to be open in that manner and being able to represent the ideas that people give straight to me is really important.”
If elected, DeShazo said he would prioritize mental health initiatives, youth services and better pedestrian infrastructure.
Although DeShazo created a Facebook page for his Ward 2 campaign, it features only one post from Dec. 14 and no photo of the candidate. The Oklahoman reported that DeShazo said the campaign is no longer important to him for personal reasons.
Storey is the owner of an OKC-based pest-control company. He does not appear to have an active campaign website or social media presence. Storey did not return NonDoc’s questionnaire sent to all city council candidates.
Storey did answer four questions for The Oklahoman.