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Shoulders of giants

Oklahoma City Council’s two outgoing members are encouraged by the next generation of city leaders who will take their seats next week.

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Outgoing Ward 2 councilman Ed Shadid is hopeful the council’s newest representatives will propel the city forward. - OKLAHOMA CITY COUNCIL / PROVIDED
  • Oklahoma City Council / provided
  • Outgoing Ward 2 councilman Ed Shadid is hopeful the council’s newest representatives will propel the city forward.

James Cooper and JoBeth Hamon are anxious and excited to take their city council seats April 9. After winning their respective elections without a runoff, Ward 2’s Cooper and Ward 6’s Hamon have had time to participate in forums and orientation meetings.

“My campaign manager kept telling me, ‘We won; no runoff.’ And I was like, ‘That can’t be right. Can you go run some numbers again?’” Hamon said. “But because there was no runoff, both James and I have had the opportunity to meet with city staff and do a lot of introductions and orientation meetings.”

‘Historic moment’

Though several meetings have been in preparation for their first council meeting, Cooper said there has also been a lot of interest to talk with him, Hamon and Ward 7 councilwoman Nikki Nice about the “historic moment we’re living in.”

Hamon, a mental health advocate with a degree in family and community services, will be the city’s 11th woman to serve on the council; she will sit beside Nice, the 10th woman elected and a former radio show host. Cooper, a middle school teacher, will be the first LGBTQ+ and biracial representative; with him and Nice serving, Oklahoma City will have two black council members for the first time.

“This moment,” Cooper said, “when you have people who come from the backgrounds that you don’t normally see winning city council elections, serving in public office — and by that I mean people who aren’t wealthy, people who aren’t well-connected, people who know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck — I hope that leads to more people at every level of government saying, ‘Wait a second. How can I get involved?’”

An avid movie buff, Cooper echoed Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben in terms of what this new representation means for the future of OKC.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” he said. “This moment in history is going to call for some pretty big things, I think, especially when it comes to the next MAPS.”

The city council has gone decades without a teacher’s voice, which Cooper said is a crucial perspective.

JoBeth Hamon will take her seat as Oklahoma City Ward 6 councilwoman April 9. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • JoBeth Hamon will take her seat as Oklahoma City Ward 6 councilwoman April 9.

“It’s really important we address the systemic problems that have resulted from a lack of properly funded public education,” he said. “That means wraparound services, whatever we can do through endowments to address homelessness and mental health and addiction and domestic violence and daycares. … So many of my students, no matter how brilliant they are and no matter how dedicated they are, are confronting those problems, and it keeps them from focusing in the classroom.”

Though Hamon describes herself as an introvert and feels pressure under the spotlight, she is excited to be part of a more balanced council.

“It’s exciting … just having a bit of a different perspective on what the community looks like and even recognizing that, yes, a lot of our demographics have been changing,” she said. “But part of it is that the voices that have been less involved or less empowered are feeling a little more empowered to be part of the conversation. The exciting thing for me is that I think it can bring more balance to the conversation we have at the city leadership level about how we grow as a city.”

Hamon plans to pursue her campaign goals.

“We kept talking these really big ideas during my campaign, and so getting a little bit more of a taste of what potential steps are to achieve some of those things is a little overwhelming,” she said. “The things that I really talked about during the campaign were public transit, particularly our bus system, and improving service, exploring different funding options for public transit operations, investment in our neighborhoods, particularly how we build our streets and thinking about sidewalks and bus lanes and finding ways to build more people-centric neighborhoods.”

Cooper’s neighborhood goals are similar.

“We need those complete streets with those bike lanes with those crosswalks with those street lamps connecting people to their schools, to their parks with recreation,” he said. “This is kind of nonnegotiable for me anymore. … I think that’s going to involve looking at those historic parts of town that, for too long, were really left behind in the urban core. … We have to look very closely at their history and what makes each district unique from the other, the character of those places, and make that character as vibrant as possible.”

Things to come

James Cooper won the five-person Ward 2 election with 53 percent of the votes. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • James Cooper won the five-person Ward 2 election with 53 percent of the votes.
Outgoing council members Ed Shadid and Meg Salyer served on the council for eight and 11 years respectively; they are encouraged by the next generation of leaders, who they said will have to continue to address many of the same issues they faced.

“If I go back up to a 30,000 square-foot view, the city has come a long way, but we have a lot of pressing issues. And many of them involve those less fortunate in the community, and many of those issues surround the common themes of mental health, substance abuse, health and wellness and homelessness,” Salyer said. “But I am also hopeful. … I’ve been here for 35 years, and it is a totally different place beginning with this sort of wonderful can-do attitude of our people.”

In closing statements during his final city council meeting March 26, Shadid said mental health and addiction, climate change adaptation and helping the city’s less fortunate are areas the council still needs to focus on.

“I do think things are getting better, but that’s not good enough to say things are getting better because you’re starting at such an outlier,” he told Oklahoma Gazette. “You have to do more than just get better; you have to really make up ground quickly. … But I am incredibly excited about JoBeth Hamon and James Cooper coming on the council, and I think that they and Nikki Nice will help propel the city forward at an accelerated rate.”

Shadid, who some council members referred to as “Dr. No” for his questioning and repudiation of many projects, said the newest council members must continue pressing for answers and stand their ground on important topics.

Outgoing Ward 6 councilwoman Meg Salyer said the most fulfilling part of the job was getting to help a citizen every single day. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Outgoing Ward 6 councilwoman Meg Salyer said the most fulfilling part of the job was getting to help a citizen every single day.

“We all, as people of Oklahoma City, need to have people questioning. I think our greatest hope lies with James and JoBeth and Nikki,” he said. “I believe that, while I was in a super minority position, I’m only the harbinger of things to come; that each subsequent generation is going to speak louder and with more urgency than I have because these issues are all going to progress. And so the councils I served on will ultimately, historically appear to be the radical ones. I’m very confident that I’m on the right side of history.”

Both outgoing council members said that serving the city and representing their respective wards has been one of the most fulfilling things they have done. They both plan to stay civically engaged.

“This was one of the greatest honors of my lifetime,” Salyer said. “If you asked 27-year old Meg if I would ever serve in that role, I would’ve absolutely said no. So to have the privilege of doing that is really special. ”

“I have a lot of sadness leaving the council but also contentment because I gave the city everything I had,” Shadid said. 

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