By EMILY RAMSEY
MAYOR HOPEFUL: As chairman of the Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force, Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum played a major supporting role in the passage of Vision Tulsa’s Proposition 3, which includes funding to construct two dams in the Arkansas River. Bynum, who comes from a family with three former Tulsa mayors, recently announced that he is running for mayor of Tulsa.
GTR Newspapers photo
Editor’s Note: G.T. Bynum is one of Greater Tulsa Reporter’s “10 People to Watch in 2016,” as announced in its January 2016 issue. was the first news group in greater Tulsa to introduce “10 People to Watch,” which launched in January 2009.
This article is part of a yearlong series of articles featuring each of GTR’s “10 People to Watch,” with next month’s issue to feature Gilcrease Museum Executive Director James Pepper Henry.
Whether he liked it or not, for the past nearly three years, Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum has been the face of the “water in the river” movement. Although, if you ask him, he probably doesn’t mind that label, especially since residents largely approved Vision Tulsa’s Proposition 3, which includes $127 million to construct a new Zink dam and a Jenks dam in the Arkansas River.
Bynum is a fifth-generation Tulsan with ties to the Arkansas River beginning, if not earlier, in 1964 when his grandfather Robert (Bob) LaFortune was serving as commissioner of streets and public property and developed a plan for Arkansas River development.
That 1964 plan, which currently sits on Bynum’s desk in the City Council offices, bears many resemblances to the current river plan, he says.
Yet, the decades came and went, and the river continued to sit mostly empty.
During those years, Bynum graduated from Cascia Hall Preparatory School and Villanova University, spent 10 years working in the U.S. Senate for State Senators Don Nickles and Tom Coburn, and then moved back to Tulsa with his wife.
And still, there the riverbed sat.
Bynum remembers watching the news in 2007 and seeing that Tulsans were once again voting no on a proposal to put water in the river, and he was struck by the apathetic response from city leaders.
“Their attitude was, ‘we’ll try again in 10 years,’” he says, “when, instead, they should have been asking, ‘what do we need to change about this proposal to get this to pass?’”
It was then that Bynum started thinking about running for city council. He was elected to serve as city councilor for district 9 in 2008. He recently announced that he is running for mayor of Tulsa.
With a strong history of political activism in his family, Bynum readily admits that he has long been planning to one day run for Tulsa mayor.
Bynum’s great-great-grandfather R.N. Bynum served as the second mayor of Tulsa from 1899-1900 and helped to establish the Tulsa Public School System. Bynum’s grandfather Bob LaFortune served as Tulsa’s mayor from 1970-78 and Bob’s son Bill LaFortune served as mayor from 2002-06.
With all of these examples, Bynum’s political aspirations don’t come as much of a surprise; yet, Bynum says, it’s the example of Bob LaFortune that helped to shape Bynum’s view of public office as a “noble calling and a public service.”
“My grandfather (Bob) is my hero because he does everything the right way. He is selfless in our family and in the community.”
Tulsa’s long history of striving for greatness is one thing that Bynum has always loved about his hometown. And it is one reason why he is choosing now to run for mayor.
“A century ago, individuals in the city were focused on making Tulsa a world class city, but in the past few decades, we have started to lose that focus,” he says.
“For example, Waite Phillips made his oil fortune and then came to Tulsa and built Philbrook, the Philtower and the Philcade Building. He built skyscrapers downtown, because he felt like Tulsa deserved the best.
“We need to get back to that previous approach: becoming nationally competitive again and setting high expectations for ourselves as a city.”
For Bynum, getting Tulsans behind putting a consistent amount of water in the Arkansas River was the first step in reestablishing those high expectations for Tulsa and utilizing a “glaring, untapped opportunity,” he says.
“Whenever leaders from across the country come to Tulsa, they always comment on the underutilized opportunity of the river.”
Bynum served as chairman of the Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force from the time it was formed in 2013.
“That (task force) went on a lot longer than we anticipated,” he says, “but we wanted to make sure that we put something before Tulsa’s citizens that was correct and could actually be constructed.
“Two years of public engagement is not the normal process before taking something like this to voters.”
The next steps for the Arkansas River include hiring a contractor to demolish and construct a new Zink dam at 29th Street and approval by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the city council of the river corridor’s land use plan, which establishes development guidelines for the land area surrounding the river.
The new Zink dam and replacement of the pedestrian bridge is expected to take five years.
Also, officials with the City of Jenks and Muscogee (Creek) Nation will need to come to an agreement on construction of the Jenks dam, to be located at 103rd Street, by the end of the year, says Bynum.
Regarding the amount of additional revenue that water in the Arkansas River could generate, the University of Oklahoma recently conducted a study that found that cities with waterways comparable to the Arkansas River experience about $120 million in additional economic development impact annually.
“I think with Vision Tulsa’s Proposition 3, we are not going to be able to fully appreciate or see the full impact of passing that package for 10 years or so,” Bynum continues, making a comparison to the passing of Vision 2025 and the construction of the Center. “We didn’t anticipate all of the residual effects that the Center brought about: downtown private investment and residential growth, the revitalization of the Brady Arts District. There are so many positive things that came out of that package that we didn’t anticipate.”