In the City of Norman’s Ward 2 election, five candidates are seeking to fill the seat after Councilwoman Lauren Schueler, who was appointed following a vacancy in 2021 and elected to a full term in 2022, chose not to seek reelection.
Candidates include a current Norman councilman who was redistricted into Ward 2, a former councilwoman running to retake the seat, an electrician and nonprofit organizer, and the executive director of a mental health advocacy nonprofit.
One candidate who filed does not appear to have an active campaign or online presence.
To achieve victory in the Feb. 13 election, a candidate will need to receive more than 50 percent of votes cast. If no one reaches that threshold, the election will go to a runoff scheduled April 2.
Ward 2 extends south from Robinson Street to Norman’s southern city limit between Interstate 35 on the west and Berry Road on the east.
The following cheat sheet for the City of Norman’s Ward 2 election compiles information from public sources such as campaign websites, social media and published interviews with Andrea Hancock of The Norman Transcript. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order.
Profession/background: Jeff Dismukes is the executive director of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Oklahoma, a nonprofit that provides support for people living with mental health disorders. Before joining DBSA, Dismukes was the director of communications for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for 20 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Oklahoma, according to his campaign website.
Priorities: While Dismukes’ campaign website does not state his platform, he has been an outspoken critic of Oklahoma’s behavioral health system.
“Let’s seize the opportunity to bring everyone to the table — insurers, policymakers, businesses, providers and advocates — so we can create a behavioral health system that serves all Oklahomans,” Dismukes said in an opinion piece for The Oklahoman in March 2023. “This is a complex problem that is rooted in a stigma that we have yet to fully eradicate. Now is the time to tackle this issue head-on, and it will take all of us working together to create and implement the right solutions.”
He told The Norman Transcript the issue is “stigmatized” and that Norman needs to view the situation holistically.
“It’s not always about creating something new. It’s about finding out what’s supposed to be working, and if it’s not working correctly, how you partner with that group and share your input and help make that work correctly for the community,” Dismukes told The Transcript. “When we have access to these types of services, not just behavioral health services, but all medical services, I believe that helps attract people into the community and strengthen everything that we’re doing.”
Profession/background: Ray Howerton is a retired information technology expert who performed maintenance on mainframe computers for companies like Johnson & Johnson and Allstate, he told The Transcript.
Priorities: Howerton told The Transcript his father was the chief social worker at Griffin Memorial Hospital for over 30 years. Howerton’s top priority is promoting better mental health services now that a state hospital is being relocated from Norman to Oklahoma City.
Howerton also told The Transcript his motivation to run for Ward 2 is fueled by wanting to promote compassion and tolerance in Norman’s government. He said he hopes to improve the community’s culture by expanding events like the Medieval Fair and the Norman Music Festival. He also told The Transcript he would like to improve Norman’s roads, especially State Highway 9, to aid traffic.
“I believe that if you can sit down and be reasonable, and be sane, and be respectful, and have human decency towards each other, we can get to resolution without being ugly and nasty,” Howerton told The Transcript.
Online: Howerton does not appear to maintain an online presence.
Profession/background: Previously serving a term on the Ward 2 seat in 2016, Aleisha Karjala is a professor of political science at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. She serves on the board of directors for the League of Woman Voters of Norman, the League of Woman Voters of Oklahoma and Jazz in June, according to her campaign website.
During her term from 2016 to 2018, Karjala worked on getting a senior center sited and nearing construction, according to her website. She worked “against militarizing the police” and was involved in denying OG&E’s franchise agreement. She also opposed the University North Park arena proposal.
“Because I have served on city council in the past, I have a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face, and I have actively worked on many of the issues the council is currently facing — from the arena to the OG&E franchise agreement, and many other issues currently shaping Norman’s growth,” Karjala said in a Facebook post announcing her candidacy.
Priorities: Karjala sets her priorities for Norman as community engagement and communication, effective leadership, and equity and opportunity for all, according to her website.
“The citizens of Ward 2 need leadership that is available, diligent, and experienced. Having a firmly established career and grown children creating their own lives for themselves, Aleisha [Karjala] has the bandwidth and flexibility to be the diligent ward representative these complex times demand,” her website states.
Karjala’s mission, according to her website, is to create a more just and equitable Norman “where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
Profession/Background: Owing to the City of Norman’s redistricting after the 2020 U.S. census, Ward 8 Councilman Matt Peacock is now running for election in Ward 2. Peacock has been on the council since 2020, serving on the Planning and Transportation Committee and as chairman of the Business and Community Affairs Committee. He has previously been on the board of directors for multiple local nonprofits, such as the Norman Arts Council, Firehouse Arts Center and Norman Rotary Club, according to his Norman City Council biography.
Peacock holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Oklahoma, according to his campaign website. He has been the owner and principal architect for Peacock Design since 2015. He has also previously served as a planning commissioner for the city.
Priorities: According to Peacock’s campaign website, his priorities include Norman’s walkability, smart growth and arts and culture. Among those topics, he states his priorities promote physical wellbeing and efficient land use in an effort to infuse vibrancy and identity into spaces, “transforming them from mere locations into meaningful gathering places.”
“These efforts are focused around placemaking, with an emphasis on smart growth, walkability, sustainability, and the arts in order to develop healthy, vibrant communities,” Peacock states on his website. “I am a champion for these as community building blocks, and I strive to align the people and resources necessary to advance them in a positive vision for our city.”
Profession/background: Russell Rice, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is a co-founder of Norman Care-A-Vans, a nonprofit that transports people experiencing homelessness to services, according to his campaign website. He is also an organizing member of Red Dirt Collective, a nonprofit that works to support low-income and working families through mutual aid. Rice works as a union electrician and has been a member of the Norman Public Safety Sales Tax Oversight Committee for three years.
Priorities: Rice’s priorities include expanding public transit and finding solutions for homelessness, affordable housing and sustainable development, according to his website. As co-founder of Norman Care-A-Vans, Rice states he understands how transportation can be a barrier to work, education and community services. Using his experience as a union electrician, Rice states he can understand what it takes to build “with a responsibility to our neighbors, environment and tax dollars, including protecting Ward 2 votes from unnecessary runoff and the use of public tax dollars for personal gain.”
“For those already unhoused, we need a permanent homeless shelter and actual affordable housing that is safe, fair, and sanitary,” Rice said via email to The Transcript. “For those at risk of becoming homeless, policies that help them will help all Norman citizens: transportation, food pantries, access to mental health and substance abuse services, and access to affordable housing.”