An Oklahoma mayor who faced scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic for her support of mask mandates and business closures lost to a Navy veteran who on the campaign trail stressed “personal freedoms.”
The officially nonpartisan election took place Tuesday in Norman, the Sooner State’s third-largest city and home to the University of Oklahoma. Mayor Breea Clark and Larry Heikkila, a former city safety manager and a 26-year Navy veteran. Heikkila, 70, received 53.39% of the vote on Tuesday, compared to 46.61% for Clark, according to the Oklahoma State Election Board.
Clark had faced a recall petition by a group known as Unite Norman, which came close but failed to reach the required number of petitions to trigger a recall election in 2020.
The group had sought to condemn Clark for her pandemic-era mask mandate coupled with calls for business closures, though none of those policies remained in effect in the buildup to the most recent election.
Even though Norman is a college town (areas that are often liberal, even in deep-red states), the outcome is in line with recent election results in the surrounding county and Oklahoma at large. In Cleveland County, then-President Donald Trump beat President Joe Biden in 2020, 56% to 42%. In Oklahoma, Trump demolished Biden 65% to 32%. And no Democratic presidential candidate has won a single Oklahoma county since Al Gore in 2000.
Heikkila began mulling a mayoral bid in February 2021, when many of the COVID-19 restrictions continued to be in place in the city of about 125,000 people.
It was “a year ago that we started looking for who the candidate was going to be, and we couldn’t find a candidate, and so people pointed fingers at me,” Heikkila told the Washington Examiner. “So, I prayed about it. I’m a person of faith. That’s what I tried to do before I make a large decision.”
“Defund-the-police” issues also motivated Heikkila to run. Including the Norman City Council’s decision to reallocate more than $850,000 of a planned increase in the police budget to other municipal programs. The city council vote occurred following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020.
In campaign videos, Heikkila warned the city was headed in a “destructive direction.”
“What that did was crushed the morale of the police department. We had the No. 1 police department in the state, in my opinion,” Heikkila told the Washington Examiner. “There are 150 cops right now, and there should be 180, in my opinion.”
Heikkila, in a Tuesday night speech, noted that as elections for odd wards come in 2023, constituents will have to urge “conservative” candidates to join Ward 3 Councilman Kelly Lynn and Ward 5 Councilman Rarchar Tortorello so “we can make the town that we want.”
Clark will step down from her mayoral role in July.
Reporting from The Washington Examiner.