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Undergraduate Student Congress hosts Mayor Breea Clark in mayoral forum to discuss political experiences, issues

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Breea Clark

Norman Mayor Breea Clark speaks at the Reaves Park Covid-19 memorial on March 13.

Norman Mayor Breea Clark discussed COVD-19, the importance of local government and her relationship with the state’s government in a mayoral forum hosted by OU's Student Government Association Wednesday evening. 

The forum was moderated by Beth Felk, an economics sophomore, and Jordan Brown, a business and entrepreneurship freshman, who are both members of the Undergraduate Student Congress External Affairs Board. 

The moderators opened with a question about Mayor Clark’s experience running for office. Clark discussed her political internship experiences in Washington DC and Kansas, and how both of those opportunities motivated her to want to become a political staffer or have a career related to politics. 

Clark cites a Walk and Talk with former Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal as the beginning of her involvement in local government. Rosenthal encouraged Clark to get involved with PTA and assigned her to multiple local boards.

Rosenthal eventually advised Clark to run for council. After serving three years as a councilmember for Ward 6 of Norman, Clark was told by former mayor Lynne Miller to run for mayor. Clark said she was motivated to run after realizing the importance of municipal government.

"I try to get your average voter engaged in local elections," Clark said. "The decision that we make on the second and fourth Tuesday (during regularly scheduled council meetings) will have an impact." 

Brown then moved into questions involving COVID-19, asking how Clark intends to handle the impact of the pandemic. 

"We were the first (in the state) to put a mask mandate in place, and we were the last to remove it," Clark said. "I didn't wait to take action."  

Clark said she knew her decisions would have support because she had received emails from Norman residents requesting stricter COVID-19 policies. 

Clark said the economic development advisory board helps the local government decide how to support local businesses long term. She mentioned her desire to raise the minimum wage and her frustration with Senate Bill 1023, a preemptive measure signed by former Gov. Mary Fallin that bars cities and towns from increasing the minimum wage above the state’s rate.

"Norman did alright during the pandemic, but our smaller Oklahoma communities suffered because no one was shopping at their local stores," Clark said. "So the issue is bringing people into those." 

The moderators then moved into a section discussing Clark's relationship with the state legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt. 

"I've been a rebel," Clark said. "But I've never been in a position where my courage to stand up will negatively impact my community." 

She referred to her internship with former President George W. Bush in the past and the fine line she walks as a moderate politician in Norman.

"If you're a democrat some people already hate you, and if you're not progressive enough you lose half of the democrat voters in Norman." Clark said. 

Felk then asked Clark about her recall. Clark admitted that the experience was difficult for her, but felt that she had always tried to be honest and transparent with her decisions. She said she could remember driving home and seeing her neighbor holding a petition asking for signatures for her recall. 

Unite Norman, a group founded after city council decided to reduce police funding, filed for Clark and four other city leaders recalls. The group claimed that there was a disconnect between the views of the council and the wants of the people. Clark and three others petitions did not receive enough signatures to force a recall election

"That was a humbling experience," Clark said. "We've been inviting community leaders from Unite Norman, from the Rotary Club, and from the Sierra Club to get all these people from different backgrounds together to have a dialogue."

Clark said she'd like to continue to have these kinds of conversations about differences and said she'd especially like to see them at OU. 

Brown then asked what Clark believes is the most significant issue Oklahomans are facing. 

Clark said she feels Oklahoma has a significant amount of large issues. She listed education, infrastructure and mental health as some of Oklahoma’s biggest challenges. 

"We have made improvements, but we do have a long way to go, and ignoring that is not helpful," Clark said. "In education, we've seen some improvements but still have a long way to go." 

Clark then mentioned mental health and the new mental health crisis task force response team, proposed by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, and set to come to Norman before much larger cities. The mental health crisis task force team would change how mental health and policing interact in Norman

"The fact that Oklahoma is doing this is huge," Clark said. 

Clark then spoke on gerrymandering and how she feels it often stifles the people's interests. Norman recently created a plan to redraw its wards, and received criticism from those who believe the reapportionment committee was partisan. Oklahoma Congressional districts are also set to be redistricted next month, and have been anticipated to overhaul the state’s politics.

"The people will vote, but when it comes to creating laws in the state legislature, we lose every time," Clark said. "Good things are coming, but you have got to be involved. They're scared of Gen Z, because they know you're involved and they know you're educated." 

The moderators then asked how Clark would support Native Tribes in Oklahoma. 

"We were one of the first cities in Oklahoma to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day," Clark said. "We're working on a Native Celebration land here in Norman." 

Clark said the celebration land would be in Saxon Park and would benefit Oklahoma culturally and economically.

"There's a lot more we can do," Clark said. "I am 110 percent behind the tribes during their fights with the state and Governor Stitt. I've made it very clear that I am an ally because it is the right thing to do." 

Clark said she plans to be a part of a new national event called "Women Mayors Whistle Stop Tour," a concept she created after a few difficult months as mayor. 

"It was a damn good idea, and I knew it was," Clark said. "It'll be in June, and we'll start in California and end in DC." 

Clark said the mayors plan to ask what the federal government is doing to improve women's daily lives and support female leaders. 

The forum concluded with Clark being asked what she believes her most significant flaw is. 

"I can be a little bit hotheaded," Clark said. "I have no regrets. I'm just very passionate, and I know what's right." 

She said although her passion can be one of her biggest flaws, it has also helped her political career. 

"I need to work on it and my mental health," Clark said. "I prided myself on being this tough person who didn't need to talk to anyone and didn't need any help. Ask for help if you need it, watch your temper and take care of yourself." 

junior news reporter

Mikaela DeLeon is a journalism junior and junior news reporter at The Daily.

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