Mayor G.T. Bynum does not mess around. Since moving back to Tulsa, he has already built a successful business and brought tremendous change to the city during his time on the City Council. That, and he was elected mayor. Needless to say, the rest of Tulsa may or may not have some catching up to do, but until then, Mayor Bynum has no problem serving as Tulsa’s main source of inspiration and leadership. It’s what he has spent his whole life working towards.
Mayor Bynum’s path to becoming mayor began when he was born into a family of Tulsa natives who doubled as strong leaders. His great-great-grandfather moved here during the 1870s when there were only 200 people living in the city, resulting in a long family history interwoven with Tulsa’s history.
Bynum’s grandfather, Robert LaFortune, had been mayor for eight years before he was born. “Growing up, I would go places with him and my grandmother, and if we ever went anywhere in Oklahoma, someone would stop us to say hi to him and tell me about what a great job he’d done,” he explains. “I picked up on a) the fact that being the mayor was important to people and b) the things that people think are important for a mayor to be.”
His knowledge of local and federal government came from relationships with his uncle, former Mayor Bill LaFortune, and his former boss, Senator Don Nickles. “Two days before I graduated college, I got a call from Senator Don Nickles’ office offering me a job opening his mail, and I thought, ‘I will go do that for a year just for the experience of working on Capitol Hill.’ He was one of the best legislators in the Senate, but what he had been working on he had been working on for twenty years because the federal system was so slow,” Mayor Bynum explains.
Bill, on the other hand, was able to take a faster route thanks to the workings of a local government. After only one hundred days in office, Bill already had plans to compete with an arena that had just been built in Oklahoma City. “By the time my wife and I moved home from D.C. three years later, the BOK Center was under construction,” he says. “The amount of change you can bring about at the local level is so much greater than the federal level and the tangible nature of it is so much greater as well.”
It was his time at Cascia Hall and Villanova University — schools run by Augustinian priests — where he learned the most important leadership tools. Admiring their focus on service and selflessness to their surrounding community, he was inspired to bring those qualities to the political world and focus more on bringing positive change than just getting elected.
“My senior year I wrote my thesis on young people involved in politics, and what was interesting was that the studies showed young people should be the most politically active people. They are the most idealistic and have the most free time, but they’re just not involved. Well, why not? It was because they were more involved in nonprofits and charities. The difference was that politics was viewed as corrupted and negative while nonprofit was viewed as focused on selflessness/service. So my wife and I thought, ‘well, what if we just offer people a candidate that has things people look for in nonprofit?’”
In 2008, Mayor Bynum offered just that, and was elected to the City Council. There he helped make many positive changes to Tulsa, including street improvements, tax cuts and rainy day funds. By far his proudest accomplishment, though, was passing the bill to put above water dams in the Arkansas River, something people had been talking about for over fifty years. It was one of the reasons he ran for City Council.
“I have this report from my grandfather when he was street commissioner in 1964 and it was pretty much what we passed in 2016,” he explains. “People talked about this for fifty-two years, so I used everything I learned to get that thing passed, and we did. It’s going to change the way we use the Arkansas River, and I’m very proud of that and that we finally made up our minds.”
Coupled with his rich background in government and his unique outlook on politics as positive change-making, these achievements helped him gain the approval he needed to run for mayor. An advocate for policy over partisanship, Mayor Bynum felt Tulsa had so much potential to be a world class city that it wasn’t living up to.
“I did not feel like the mayoral leadership in our city was challenging us to be a nationally competitive city. I felt like that wasn’t even on the radar and that they were comfortable competing with Owasso and Broken Arrow, who should be our allies in competing with cities around the world, not our competitors locally,” he says. “There is no growth to be found with a city and its suburbs fighting with each other.”
What he found was that most of Tulsa felt the same way. Having people such as Susan Savage, Dick Crawford, Terry Young, Kathy Taylor and his grandfather on his side, Mayor Bynum learned that a lot of citizens wanted to see Tulsa live up to that potential too. This eventually led to him beating two-term incumbent candidate Dewey Bartlett with a whopping 56 percent of the vote in last July’s primary election.
“I remember the day I announced my campaign on Facebook, and I didn’t know if anyone would be behind me,” he explains. “But it blew up. We realized that there are more people that feel this was who that want government to be more about bringing people together and fixing problems rather than just getting elected and demonizing someone else.”
At only thirty-nine, he is one of the youngest mayors to be elected in Tulsa. He see his age as an opportunity rather than a weakness. “One of our greatest areas of focus is getting young professionals to stay here and to move back, and I think having a 39 year old mayor and a mayor’s office where the average age is 34 shows young professionals that this city is being built by our generation,” he explains.
With only around one hundred days under his belt and a lot of expectations to live up to, Mayor Bynum still has a long way to go. But no worries, he’s up for the challenge. After all, this is his dream job. “Oh, it’s great. I mean, it’s pretty fantastic to get to do your dream job,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of hard work, but there is such a great spirit in our community right now and it’s a dream come true to be part of that.”