Editor’s Note: This is the final in a three-part series profiling candidates for the upcoming Midwest City municipal elections. The Beacon has highlighted one race each week leading up to the Feb. 8 election for Mayor, Ward 3 and Ward 5.
By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Communication is important to Bill Bridges.
The Midwest City man says city leaders need to be able to effectively connect with citizens to understand their needs and concerns.
And he believes he’s the man for the job as the next mayor.
Bridges is running for Midwest City mayor in the Feb. 8 election. He is one of four candidates on the ballot along with incumbent Mayor Matt Dukes, Ren Caldwell and Charles Wallace.
“I want to make sure Midwest City is the best city in Oklahoma and maybe in the United States,” he said. “I want everyone to want to move here.”
If elected, Bridges promises to be accessible and responsive.
“If you contact me, I am going to make sure you get a response,” he said. “I will do what I can and if that problem can be solved and I will tell you if it can or cannot be done.”
Bridges says part of that communication involves making information such as police statistics easily accessible on the city’s website.
“In 2016, the city spent $65,000 to do a manpower survey and then hired four officers,” he said. “How many officers have we hired since then and how many have retired? And how do we know if we have enough officers to take care of Midwest City.”
The Midwest City man says the city also needs to be more stringent with code enforcement. He said he’s personally reported issues with properties that were never addressed.
“You can just drive around and see parts of the city that look bad and have downed limbs and debris,” he said. “There are several places that I have reported on the website and talked to them about and they still look the same.
Current Mayor Matt Dukes created a group to help residents that need assistance with issues such as yard cleanup. Bridges said he loved the idea and volunteered at several cleanups. He became frustrated when the program was put on hold during the pandemic.
“If someone in Midwest City needs help then we need to go there and help them,” Bridges said. “We can’t blame it on COVID. The virus is still going on today.”
Dukes told the Beacon that he plans to get the group active again soon.
Bridges said he was a strong supporter of Dukes when he first ran for mayor in a 2016 recall election. He said his support has waned due to concerns about Dukes’ responsiveness to concerns.
Bridges was born in Georgia. He grew up on his family’s farm and joined the Air Force when has 17 years old. Bridges served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. He was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in 1973 and retired in 1976.
After retiring from the Air Force, Bridges worked in several jobs. He worked in the motel industry as a manger, at the Department of Public Safety for 12 years in the records department.
He later worked in the dispatch center for Midwest City and as a security officer. He primarily provided security at the Heritage Park Mall.
He and his wife have three grown children, five grandchildren and several great grandchildren.
Ren Caldwell loves his hometown of Midwest City.
And he believes it has a unique opportunity ahead. He wants to see the city build off its diversity and global connections through Tinker Air Force Base to attract residents and businesses.
“I think this is the place to be and I believe we have an opportunity to be a global leader realistically because we have such incredible access,” Caldwell said. “No one expects a place like Midwest City, Oklahoma.”
Caldwell is one of four people running for Midwest City’s Mayor in the Feb. 8 election. Incumbent Mayor Matt Dukes, Bill Bridges and Charles Wallace have also filed for the race.
A general election will take place April 5 if none of the candidates receive at least 50% of the vote.
Caldwell says the city already has several unique small businesses and ethic restaurants not found in other parts of the state.
He also wants to see the city provide more assistance for parents and children. He’d like to see more childcare options for parents.
“Childcare is a challenge for not only single parents in the community who are working multiple jobs, but also families that also have to work multiple jobs to bankroll their lifestyle,” he said.
He pointed to federal stimulus funds that helped parents.
“I do not think cash stimulus is the solution to all, but I do think supporting those members is a good thing,” he said. “We don’t realize how foundational they are. And if they were more supported how much better we would all be. If you’re lifting up the base of your community, you’re all rising.”
In addition to support for childcare, Caldwell wants to see the city help address food insecurity for children. He believes people are happy to help one another but become leery when it’s a government program.
“People have a different stance when talking about feeding people through government coffers,” he said. “Many kids only meals come at school and that’s an issue.”
Caldwell said he’d also like to see more communication and collaboration between residents and city leaders.
“Accessibility is a major part of the issues especially at the local level,” Caldwell said. “I think a lot of people would love to talk to the mayor or elected officials but they don’t feel like they can.”
To improve on that, Caldwell says he would break down any barriers and encourage dialogue and questions in person and through other forms of communication.
“People are so busy and I think we need to be available in the community, in public and on social media,” Caldwell said.
ws3 Caldwell grew up in Midwest City and graduated from Choctaw High School. He and his wife went to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They later moved to Del City before moving back to Midwest City.
Caldwell worked a variety of jobs before beginning his career in real estate. He received his broker license in July and is currently working for Epic Real Estate.
He and his wife have two children.
Matt Dukes has served as Midwest City’s mayor for the past six years.
But after a challenging couple of years dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dukes said he originally planned on this being his last.
“I struggled with my decision to run again. Initially, I wasn’t going to run. COVID took the wind out of our sails, and I was worn out,” Dukes said.
Supporters convinced him to reconsider.
“Some people pulled me aside and said there’s too much going on and that we didn’t need a mayor on training wheels,” Duke said. “I prayed about it and talked to my wife about it and decided to run for another four years.”
The mayor drew three challengers in his re-election bid. Bill Bridges, Ren Caldwell and Charles Wallace each filed for the seat. The election will take place Feb. 8. A general election will take place on April 5 only if none of the candidates receive at least 50% of the vote.
He was elected in 2016 after winning a recall election against former mayor JD Collins. He ran unopposed in 2018.
Dukes said he’s proud of the work the city has put in over the past six years. Some of those achievements include the city’s handling of the pandemic, the $53 million general obligation bond package passed by voters, sale of the Midwest City hospital to SSM St. Anthony, changes to the city charter and creation of a code of ethics for elected officials.
Midwest City officials expected to see sales tax revenues drop by 30-40% during the pandemic. The city responded with a cautious approach that included limited business closures. Sales taxes only took a minor dip during that time.
“The reason we didn’t lose that sales tax was because of the pragmatic approach we took towards COVID,” Dukes said. “We didn’t take any draconian action and kept everyone open that we could. And those that had to close, got back open as soon possible.”
Dukes also takes great pride in updates to the city charter that included a new code of conduct and ethics for all elected and appoints officials. He took up the cause early in his first term and finally got it put on the ballot in 2018.
“It was hypocritical that our employees needed to maintain certain standards, but we didn’t have those for our elected and appointed officials,” Dukes said.
The general obligation bond issue was passed by voters in 2018 providing funds for another number of projects including a new animal shelter, multi-sports complex, residential street improvements, fire engines, water system upgrades among others.
Dukes also pointed to the mayor’s community partners program that he helped start a few years ago. The program helped connect local volunteers with residents who needed assistance. They helped several residents with storm debris cleanup, but the efforts were put on hold during the pandemic.
“COVID kind of killed it for a year but we’re starting to get operational again,” he said.
Dukes said he has plenty of items on his plate for another term. Some of his priorities include addressing stormwater drainage issues throughout the city, working with developers to ensure future projects are “good for the city and meet our market needs,” beautification efforts, and continuing to work with state leaders to prevent legislation harmful to Midwest City.
Economic development will also be a priority. Dukes said he will continue to push for economic development, especially on the north side and near the St. Anthony Hospital.
Dukes said they are also working to “clean up” the municipal boundaries on the southeast side of the city along SE 29th St. The city’s southern boundary primarily runs along SE 29th St. except for a few areas.
“We’d like to work with Oklahoma City to push the boundary back to SE 29th St. because when someone wants to develop that land they will need to go to two different jurisdictions to do it,” Dukes said.
Dukes is a longtime Midwest City resident. He served on the Midwest City Police Department for more than 30 years and spent 29 years in the U.S. Coast Guard and Oklahoma Air National Guard.
Charles Wallace believes a person should not complain about a problem without having a solution.
The Midwest City native has seen several problems arise in his hometown in recent years. And he wants to be part of the solution as the city’s next mayor.
“I didn’t want to be that guy that sits back and complains and never does anything,” he said.
He is one of four people running for the mayor’s seat on Feb. 8. The field also includes Bill Bridges, Ren Caldwell and incumbent Matt Dukes, who is seeking a third term in office.
Wallace said his top issues include improving the appearance of the city, reducing building vacancies along Air Depot Blvd. and cutting crime.
He believes the three pieces work hand in hand and if not addressed could create a downward spiral on Air Depot Blvd.
“One of the biggest issues I’m noticing is the hollowing out of Air Depot,” Wallace said. “There are a whole bunch of vacancies. Of course, these vacancies start to look rundown. In addition to that, crime has been going up and that could be perceived crime.”
Wallace says when businesses leave Air Depot Blvd. the buildings are often not maintained which creates the appearance of a rundown city. In turn, that can attract crime in the area, which could make it less desirable for new businesses.
One of the first steps in solving the problem would be through enforcement of building codes.
“The infrastructure is already there with code enforcement,” Wallace said. “They are intended to go out and talk to people, cite them, give them a timeframe to get the problem fixed and put a little pressure on them to get it done.”
Wallace sympathizes with property owners but says the city needs to take a strong stand on unsightly buildings.
“I understand it’s a small burden on those who have done wrong,” Wallace said. “But it puts a bigger burden on the city and creates the appearance of a rundown city by not fixing it.”
To reduce crime, Wallace said he would like to see more police patrols and positive interactions between officers and residents. He also believes that improving the appearance of the city will also help deter crime.
To attract and retain businesses, Wallace says the city must make Air Depot Blvd. a place “where businesses want to be instead of a place they want to flee.”
Wallace also says he would like to see the city improve its communication with residents to create more civic engagement. He says many people simply do not know how city government works and how to interact with city leaders to resolve issues.
“As long as people don’t know they can’t be part of the process,” he said. “And if not part of the process, they’re going to feel unhappy and unjustly treated when process is resolved.”
Wallace was born in Memphis, Tennessee and his family moved to Midwest City in 1998 when his father was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base. Wallace graduated from Midwest City High School in 2001 and joined the Marine Corps.
He served two tours in Iraq and was injured in the second. In 2015, he retired from the military due to medical issues and moved back to Midwest City. He opened a martial arts school called Hoshin Dojo.
Wallace recently completed a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Liberty University. He also has a master’s degree in mediation and arbitration from Excelsior College.
He and his wife have one daughter. Several of their family members live in the area. His mother has operated a daycare since 1999.