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Karen Keith candidacy
Karen Keith sits with a supporter before the Tulsa County Election Board hearing on her candidacy for Tulsa mayor on Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Tristan Loveless)

When the Tulsa County Election Board convened this morning, a pair of brightly dressed mayoral candidates sat before them: one in a blue dress shirt with a clashing red price tag on its shoulder, another in a bright suit jacket coincidently the same color of the tag.

While a prior Tulsa County contest of candidacy hearing in April drew a crowd of observers and media, only about 10 people turned out for perennial candidate and self-described gadfly Paul Tay’s contest of Karen Keith’s eligibility to run for Tulsa mayor. Tay argued that neither Keith nor any other municipal candidate was eligible to seek such office because the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that Tulsa lies within a pair of Indian Country reservations and that non-Indians living there are in violation of federal law.

After an hour-long hearing, election board members Bob Jack and Judy Eason McIntyre unanimously voted to dismiss Tay’s challenge and retain Keith on the ballot in August.

“I’m just grateful that the process worked,” Keith said after the hearing.

Keith, the longtime District 2 representative on the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, was represented pro bono at the hearing by attorney Laurie Phillips.

Tay, who listed his campaign website on official filing paperwork as the OnlyFans account “Naked Mayor of Tulsa” — only $42.42 a month for access to posts — represented himself at the hearing.

It is unclear whether Tay listing his OnlyFans as an official campaign site obligates him to provide a list of his subscribers within his campaign finance filings.

The election board’s decision officially finalizes the field of candidates for Tulsa mayor at seven candidates. While the mayor of Tulsa is elected every four years, the city’s nine city council districts are all up for reelection every two years.

The first round of nonpartisan Tulsa municipal elections is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 27. If no candidate in a specific race receives 50 percent of the vote that day, the top two candidates in the contest will proceed to a November runoff.

Tay cites treaties while tribes decline to intervene

Karen Keith
Paul Tay sits alone before the Tulsa County Election Board hearing on Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Tristan Loveless)

Calling himself a “gadfly” — a reference to the Greek philosopher Socrates famously executed by Athenians for being generally unlikeable — Tay has run for mayor several times before and even announced a campaign for governor in 2022, though he did not file to appear on the ballot. He is perhaps most famous for interrupting the 2016 Tulsa mayoral debate, wearing dildos on his head, and stirring up minor trouble in Tulsa’s political scene.

On June 13, Tay went to the Tulsa County Election Board intending to file a challenge to every other candidate who filed to run for mayor of Tulsa and Nathan Pickard, the only candidate to file for city auditor. On a livestream, Tay said he added Pickard because he was the only city official who ran unopposed.

However, when Tay went to submit his contest of candidacy documents, an employee for the Tulsa County Election Board informed him that the board’s rules required him to file a separate contest for each candidate and pay a $250 fee per challenge, according to Casey Reynolds, assistant secretary of the TCEB. Tay claimed TCEB employees made him wait more than 40 minutes while they asked the Oklahoma State Election Board how to handle the petition.

Reynolds said that after Tay was informed of the requirement he file and pay for multiple copies of his contest — and an additional $1,500 — he limited his contestation solely to Keith’s candidacy.

“I was told, first of all, that I can only contest one person. Well, it didn’t say that anywhere in the rules, in the instructions I was given ” Tay said. “So I crossed out everybody else except Karen Keith, and I had thought about who I should contest, and Karen Keith looks like the biggest fish in the pond.”

Tay’s brief argued that candidates were ineligible to serve as mayor of Tulsa because “they all illegally settled on treaty-defined Indian land in violation of federal law.” He argued that provisions of the United States treaties with the Muscogee Nation in 1790 and 1856 made all candidates’ residency on the Muscogee Nation a federal crime and should disqualify them.

Tay cited provisions of the treaties that promised the Muscogee Nation that any U.S. citizen who settles in their territory would be under their jurisdiction and promised that “no state or territory” would ever include the nation without its legislature’s consent.

While the treaty provisions he cites do exist, interpreting their meaning is not the job of the Tulsa County Election Board, a point reiterated multiple times by Phillips in written and oral arguments.

Article III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution confers exclusive jurisdiction over treaties to the federal judiciary,” Phillips wrote in a motion to dismiss Tay’s petition, which was filed this morning. “The Tulsa County Election Board, an administrative agency, does not have jurisdiction to determine controversies that are exclusively within the purview of the federal court.”

Consequently, the board focused on whether Keith met the requirements to run for office in state or local law, a point Tay did not contest.

Phillips also provided the board with copies of an email from Muscogee Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner indicating the nation had no interest in supporting the claims made by Tay, who has filed several lawsuits around the state and even in Utah federal district court on behalf of tribal nations of which he is not a citizen and does not represent.

“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation recognizes the multiple antics and unsanctioned efforts of Paul Tay to disrupt or impact events in and around the Tulsa area,” Wisner wrote to Phillips. “While we wish the best for Mr. Tay with the hope that he access and receives appropriate services, the MCN does not intend to intervene.”

Phillips said Cherokee Nation Attorney General Chad Harsha did not respond to her email about the hearing.

Keith, Tay joined by five others in filing for Tulsa mayor

A state representative, a county commissioner, a piano bar owner, a perennial candidate, a former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, a Who Wants to be a Millionaire contestant and a man wanted in Creek County filed to run for mayor of Tulsa last week, setting up the most crowded field in the city’s elections this year.

District 9 Councilman Jayme Fowler had been campaigning for mayor since 2023, but his campaign announced his withdrawal from the race before the filing deadline, and he opted to run for reelection instead. He faces a five-candidate District 9 primary that includes former state Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa).

Tulsa mayoral races often attract an eclectic crew, with 2020’s race having a former campaign staffer for President Barack Obama placing second and an attendee of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol finishing third. This year’s mayoral race drew experienced candidates with political and business backgrounds, the obligatory perennial candidate, political unknowns and a few candidates that appear to have some legal woes.

Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith and Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) are the most well-known candidates running for Tulsa mayor since they launched their campaigns last year. Both have won elections in Tulsa before, albeit for other offices.

Brent VanNorman is relatively new to Tulsa politics but has the support of former Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who lost in the 2022 GOP primary election. The Tomahawk Strategies campaign team that had been working for Fowler has switched to VanNorman’s employment.

VanNorman previously ran for the Virginian House of Delegates in 2013 as an independent. While VanNorman ran as a nonpartisan candidate in Virginia, his campaign featured conservative policy positions. According to his archived campaign website, he opposed same-sex marriage, opposed tax increases, was pro-life, equated progressivism with socialism and criticized welfare.

Two other candidates appear to have generated unwanted attention and worsened their legal woes by filing for the mayoral race. The Tulsa World reported that candidate Kaleb Hoosier had an active arrest warrant in Creek County from October 2023 when he filed for the race last week.

Hoosier self describes himself as a “progressive Republican” on Twitter and launched his campaign with a 48-second speech. He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern for Congress in a sideways video that appears to have been filmed immediately after he woke up the morning of Tuesday’s primary.

Over in civil court, Tulsa mayoral candidate Casey Bradford was sued in 2021 by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which said Bradford owed the state $1.7 million for pandemic-era personal protective equipment his newly formed company, PPE Supplies LLC, had been contracted to provide. The state paid Bradford $2.1 million, but his purported deals with companies in China and Cambodia to buy N-95 masks fell through. Bradford and the company repaid only a portion of the money to OSDH, and the agency filed suit in January 2021.

At the time Bradford announced his candidacy, the Oklahoma State Courts Network case listing displayed an erroneous item under “events” that stated a judgment had been entered against Bradford’s company PPE Supplies, LLC. However, court officials confirmed that no such judgment, settlement or dismissal had been entered. The case’s online record appears to have been corrected now, although no action has occurred since February 2023, meaning it could be placed on Judge Sheila Stinson’s disposition docket.

Bradford also owns the piano bar Shady Keys and other businesses in downtown Tulsa.

Also appearing on the ballot are John Jolley, a former Who Wants To Be A Millionaire contestant, and perennial candidate Paul Tay.

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25 file for Tulsa City Council, Nathan Pickard elected city auditor

The City of Tulsa holds municipal elections for all nine city council seats every two years. In 2022, voters approved an amendment to the city charter to give the elected city auditor position a four-year term starting in 2026.

In one of the biggest surprises of candidate filing, City Auditor Cathy Carter did not file after previously announcing her intention to run for reelection. Nathan Pickard, the founder of data analysis company, 9b Corp, won the open race by being the only candidate to file for office. Carter had served as city auditor since 2013.

Also declining to file after announcing a reelection campaign was District 5 Councilman Grant Miller, who was charged with domestic assault in April. The charges were dismissed in May after the alleged victim, his wife, declined to testify for prosecutors in court.

Two other incumbents — Councilwoman Crista Patrick and Jeannie Cue — announced their retirements prior to filing. Cue, who has represented District 2 since 2012, placed third in the Republican primary for the open Tulsa County commissioner seat Tuesday. Patrick, first elected in 2018, retired from representing District 3. She was the third member of her family to represent the district after her father, David Patrick, and uncle, Mike Patrick.

Candidates who filed for the Tulsa City Council elections are listed in alphabetical order by district below.

District 1

District 2

District 3

  • Jackie Dutton, 64, former owner of the now-closed Mad Dog Liquor; and
  • Susan Frederick, 62, who has little online presence.

District 4

  • Laura Bellis, 35, the incumbent city councilwoman since 2022; and
  • Aaron Griffith, 49, a Muscogee Nation citizen and named party in a lawsuit between members of the Tulsa Public Schools Board.

District 5

  • Alicia Andrews, 53, the chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party since 2019; and
  • Karen Gilbert, 55, former city councilwoman between 2011 and 2018.

District 6

District 7

  • Margie Alfonso, 89, a candidate for HD 79 in 2020 and Tulsa County commissioner in 2022;
  • Edward Huff, 72, a conservative talk radio host; and
  • Lori Decter Wright, 49, incumbent city councilwoman since 2018.

District 8

District 9:

  • Carol Bush, 63, a former state representative for House District 70 between 2017 and 2022;
  • LeeAnn Crosby, 40, a mental health professional and candidate in 2020 and 2022;
  • Julie Dunbar, 54, a mental health professional;
  • Jayme Fowler, 65, incumbent city councilman since 2020; and
  • Matthew Nelson, 39, owner of Alvin Stone Inc.