Matt Hinkle wants common sense solutions for OKC Ward 5. His opponent, Thuan Nguyen, wants the ward to get a fair shake when it comes to MAPS money. Both believe the south Oklahoma City ward has plenty of untapped promise, and both want to have a say in its future, though only one will get that chance when they face off in the Tuesday, April 4, runoff.
When all of the votes were counted in the Feb. 14 OKC City Council primary election, only 178 ballots separated Hinkle and Nguyen out of nearly 3,200 total that were cast. Hinkle came the closest to reaching the 50 percent threshold, finishing with just over 40 percent. Nguyen pulled in 34 percent of the vote in the four-candidate race.
A heavily residential area, OKC Ward 5 covers a significant portion of the city’s southwest side. It borders Moore to the east and Newcastle to its southwest. It includes Westmoore High School, Earlywine Park and Oklahoma City Community College.
NonDoc spent time with each candidate following the February primary. For Hinkle, the day involved a driving tour around the places he thinks make Ward 5 great. For Nguyen, it was a long talk over coffee about his story as an immigrant from Vietnam and his life as a business owner.
Matt Hinkle: ‘I’m not a combative person at all’
Matt Hinkle doesn’t have to drive far to see his name on a sign. His Dodge pickup has one on its side. There are Hinkle signs across Ward 5, a place where he’s lived for two decades. When told his sign game is strong, he grins as though he’s heard that before.
“Well, I’m in the sign business,” he said.
In his day job, Hinkle works for Tyler Media and serves on the OKC Planning Commission. He is also a part-time musician, a woodworking enthusiast, and a devoted member of the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, which marked the first stop on the tour of his favorite places in Ward 5. He sees the organization as pivotal in the ward’s past and future.
“There is nothing that goes on in south Oklahoma City that doesn’t have a genesis from here,” he said. “You want to network, you want to volunteer, you want to get to know community leaders, this is where you can do it.”
As Hinkle made his way to the next stop, he drove through one of the southside’s worst intersections. Traffic and road condition complaints during his campaign have been ever-present from fed-up residents. He understands, up to a point.
“People want the roads fixed and then they complain when they close them down to get them fixed,” Hinkle said. “Southwest 89th and May has been shut down since September. It’s just one lane going everywhere. And everyone is really sick and tired of it. But so be it. You can’t close an intersection down to get roads fixed. You have to do it a little bit at a time.”
Homeless individuals are another common complaint among those he has spoken with while campaigning, but Hinkle is optimistic things will get better.
“I think we’re on the right path,” he said. “I can tell you every single door I knock on, they want the homeless humanely gone. Just out of my neighborhood. I don’t care how you do it, but be nice to them while you’re doing it. Which is that NIMBY mentality that kind of drives me nuts.”
One area where NIMBY has not been a factor is Hinkle’s personal favorite place in Ward 5: an empty two-acre tract of land behind Sky Ranch Elementary that will be the site of a future tiny home complex aimed at supporting Moore Public Schools students facing housing insecurity. Eventually, about 90 people will be housed there.
“This is probably the thing that makes my heart the proudest,” Hinkle said of the project. “And the Planning Commission was part of this. And what’s awesome is none of the neighbors complained. We didn’t have a single NIMBY.”
Conflict resolution may be something Hinkle has to deal with if elected to the council. Hinkle calls himself decidedly conservative and pro-police, while some incumbent members of the City Council have pushed for more transparency and accountability for law enforcement. Hinkle said he believes he can work with others on the council who may not share his worldview, as long as it’s a two-way street.
“It all depends on how they work with me,” he said. “I’m not a combative person at all. I’m a very easygoing person. I like getting to know people and solving problems. But I see through BS really quick, and I don’t like stupidity.”
The potential new arena for the OKC Thunder is a project far from construction but near a financial fork in the road. During NonDoc’s Ward 5 primary debate, Hinkle said he needed to see a final proposal. After a recent poll showing enthusiasm for the new arena, Hinkle’s position is unchanged.
“I think the chamber and the city are nervous about losing the Thunder, and I can’t disagree,” he said. “There’s no way you can deny what the Thunder has done for our reputation as a city.”
Hinkle went on a Planning Commission trip to Milwaukee last year and saw that city’s new arena, which he thinks might be a model for OKC.
“In Milwaukee, it was a county, state, city, and private investor deal,” he said. “There were a whole lot of people throwing money in, and they have an arena that’s a gorgeous facility.”
Other stops on his tour of Ward 5 included Oklahoma City Community College and one of Hinkle’s favorite restaurants, House of Sezhuan, a buffet he’s been going to for so long that he’s seen the children of the adults who own it grow up and finish college and become engineers. OCCC, where his wife serves as a regent, is another favorite for Hinkle because it serves a wide variety of students and puts millions into the economy.
“The college is a jewel,” Hinkle said.
As the conversation turned back to the race for Ward 5, Hinkle finished by saying he’s ready to go to work on day one.
“I was cognizant of how the council worked before I got involved in the Planning Commission, but the nuts and bolts of how things get in line and how things get done is complicated,” Hinkle said. “That’s why I feel like I’m a better candidate.”
Thuan Nguyen remembers virtually nothing of the journey he and his mother embarked on in 1980 to come to the United States from Vietnam. Sponsored by a church in Midwest City, Nguyen and his mother left the rest of his family behind, including his father and two siblings.
“I don’t remember the journey, but I do remember asking where my family was and asking my mom when we could go home,” he said of those initial days in the United States.
Nguyen wouldn’t see the rest of his family for 12 years. His mother worked three jobs to support them. He doesn’t remember culture shock, mostly because he was too young. But he does wonder where Vietnam fits in his life decades later.
“For me, it wasn’t much of a shock because I went to kindergarten here,” he said. “It’s a culture shock when I go back to Vietnam. For a lot of one-and-a-half-generation Asian Americans, that’s how we feel a lot of the time. But we grew up here, so this is the place we call home.”
After the rest of the family moved from Vietnam, the family found a house they could live in together. However, their relative piece was shattered in 1999.
“We had bought a house in Moore off of I-35, and we had it for about three years before the tornado destroyed it,” he said. “My dad and I were inside. We hid in the hallway, and luckily we were okay.”
Nguyen’s father died of lung cancer three years later, ending a career path in biochemistry his son had started at the University of Oklahoma and that had taken him to Penn State University.
“When he got sick, I decided to come home,” Nguyen said.
Ten years ago, Nguyen took the plunge and opened his own insurance agency.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” he said. “I know that is said a lot, but I have.”
Nguyen’s run for the City Council was something he initially felt unsure about.
“I had to pray a lot about it,” he said. “In founding the Asian District Cultural Association, I started to get involved in city planning. Bringing in the city’s first Asian market festival, I was in a leadership position and that wasn’t something I would have ever thought I’d be doing because I was a science nerd. I wasn’t really sociable. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be someone who would run for office.”
He already has some policy ideas. For starters, he’d like a new approach to how city dollars are allocated for road work.
“I would like to propose an equitable solution, where each ward gets a certain amount of projects each year based on needs,” he said. “That way we’re not leaving pockets of our city out, and by the time we do catch up they’re in such bad shape we have to spend more money to fix them.”
Nguyen identifies as a conservative, though more moderate on some social issues. He believes he can work with other members of the council who may be more moderate or farther left than he is.
“I believe I’m a reasonable person,” he said. “I like to listen. That’s the thing with me, I can work alongside a lot of people and understand we have differences, but we can always find common ground.”
But police funding is one area where Nguyen finds little room for compromise.
“On issues like defunding the police, never in a million years would I compromise on that,” he said. “I have a lot of good friends who are police. That’s what they’re doing to serve our communities. They have a lot on their plate. And I think for that reason, we also need to make sure we take care of their mental health.”
He is equally enthusiastic about public transit. Nguyen was once reliant on it for transportation, an experience he found wanting.
“I had to take the bus to work, and it took two hours,” he said. “Then I’d have to walk another two miles to get home from the stop. Imagine carrying groceries or books. Ward 5 needs better connectivity. We have a tiny homes community being built for youth experiencing homelessness, but these kids are going to need transportation.”
With OKC growing and its needs sometimes exceeding that growth, Nguyen is less than enthusiastic about public funding for a new arena to house the Thunder. He drew comparisons between himself and outgoing Councilman David Greenwell, who often speaks of measurable outcomes at council meetings.
“We’re both data-driven,” he said. “It has to show in the numbers.”