By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Candidates for municipal elections shared their views on a variety of local issues Monday morning during a forum at the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce.
The candidates provided a brief introduction before sharing their views on housing, economic development, code enforcement, the future of Air Depot Blvd. and other issues. Shane Willard, past president of the Chamber of Commerce, served as the moderator for the forum.
On Tuesday, Feb. 8, Midwest City voters will elect a mayor as well as Council members in Ward 3 and 5. Polls are open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Bill Bridges served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years and has lived in Midwest City since 1973. He said he would be honored to continue to serve his community as mayor.
Ren Caldwell grew up in Midwest City and works as a real estate broker. He is a proponent of early childhood education.
Mayor Matt Dukes is a lifelong resident of Midwest City and longtime public servant. He served 31 years as a police officer, 29 years in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and five years in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was elected Mayor in 2016 as an extension of his service to the community.
Charles Wallace is a retired Marine and current business owner. He wants to improve communication and engagement between residents and city leaders.
AJ Bailey is a longtime Midwest City resident and works at Tinker Air Force Base. He said he wants to make Midwest City a more attractive place for younger residents and families who are leaving the community.
Megan Bain was born and raised in Midwest City. She works as a business development coordinator with the Mid-Del Technology Center and previously worked with the Chamber of Commerce and was a teacher at Mid-Del and Choctaw schools. She says her skills and experience will allow her to bring a wide perspective and collaborative spirit to the council.
Councilwoman Españiola Bowen has lived in Midwest City for 38 years where she raised her two daughters. She works at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Bowen has served as the Ward 3 representative since 2018. She wants to continue bringing diversity and inclusion to the city leadership and promoting economic development on the city’s north side.
Councilwoman Christine Allen has represented Ward 5 since 2014. She moved to Midwest City in 1995 after serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. She said she’s help make improvements on the north side including the addition of Boys and Girls Club at Crutcho, Steed and Telstar.
Sara Bana is a public interest and consumer rights advocate. She represents and advocates on behalf of individuals, families, community groups, organizations, and issues. Her family fled Iran because of political persecution during the Iran Iraq War.
After the introductions, Willard asked the candidates which pro-business program, initiative or project they would create or support, if elected.
Bridges said he would work to clean up the community to attract businesses to Midwest City. Caldwell said he would like to see the city improve communication between the public and city government and reach out to local businesses and provide support. Dukes touted the city’s success in attracting businesses and wants to build off that by removing roadblocks for future economic growth. Wallace says he would focus on improving the Air Depot Blvd.
In the Ward 3 field, Bailey commended the city’s pro-business policies but wants to see more small and local businesses thrive. Bain agreed the city has done an excellent job bringing in new businesses but must continue to support them. She also favored improvements to Air Depot Blvd. Bowen said the city needs to promote and support local businesses that can attract residents.
In Ward 5, Allen said the business community has grown dramatically along SE 29th and SE 15th streets and she would work to continue that growth throughout the city. Bana said Ward 5 has not shared in the prosperity and would like to see more businesses, especially those in the arts and culture industry. come to the area.
Challenges facing Midwest City
In the second question, Willard asked candidates to identify the single greatest challenge facing Midwest City and how they would address is.
Bridges reiterated a need for stronger code enforcement while also empowering the city council members in the decision process. Caldwell wants to see the city become more active in the medical marijuana industry. Dukes pointed to the limited amount of undeveloped land in the city and said leaders must attract smart developments that will meet future needs of residents and businesses. Wallace says the biggest problem is a disconnect between the public and city leaders. He wants to teach residents how to interact with their government to promote change.
Bailey said the biggest challenge is keeping younger residents in Midwest City. His solution is more diversity in housing, businesses, and services. Bain identified three issues – improving Air Depot Blvd., better communication between city leaders and residents, and a more proactive approach towards developments. Bowen said the city needs to bring development to NE 10th St. in Ward 3 and 5.
Allen says Ward 5 faces several challenges including multiple school districts. She said she is active in the community and is in touch with the needs of residents. Bana says retaining the next generation of residents is a challenge, while also expressing needs for mental health treatment and a domestic assault shelter in Midwest City.
The candidate forum was originally planned for Feb. 2 but was postponed due to weather.
A video of the event is available on the Midwest Chamber of Commerce Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/MidwestCityChamberOfCommerce