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Popularity contest

In the race toward election day, mayoral candidates trumpet their endorsements. But how important are they, really?

Tim Farley October 22nd, 2013

Oklahoma City mayoral candidates already have received major endorsements from public safety unions and neighborhood groups, but those alliances may not be as significant as years past, according to a group of independent political consultants.

Although voters won’t head to the polls for another four months (the primary is March 4), mayoral candidate and Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid received unanimous backing from the OKC police and fire unions.

None of Oklahoma City’s neighborhood associations have publicly endorsed Mayor Mick Cornett in his re-election bid.

However, more than 700 Oklahoma City residents representing 254 different neighborhoods have declared their support for Cornett as he seeks a fourth term in office, according to Brenda Jones, spokeswoman for the Cornett campaign. Cornett has placed those supporters on a campaign panel called “Mick’s Neighborhood Steering Committee.”

“Endorsements in general mean less and less in the political world,” said Trebor Worthen, senior associate at A.H. Strategies and a former state lawmaker.

“As voters have more and more information from so many different sources, relying on an endorsement means less than it did 10 or 15 years ago. They can read about each candidate’s record and make up their minds independent of any endorsements.”

Endorsements as currency
At the same time, endorsing groups are able to energize their own members and provide critical financial resources for candidates, said Worthen, who works predominantly for Republican candidates and conservative issues.

Meanwhile, Democratic political consultant Joe Hartman believes large labor groups such as police and fire unions provide an established organization and monetary benefits for a candidate’s campaign.

“They bring more weight than an individual who can only give so much money or knock on so many doors,” he said.

Brenda Jones, spokeswoman for the Cornett campaign and owner of Jones Public Relations, contends the mayor’s endorsements from neighborhood groups and more than 700 more individuals provide a powerful statement to voters.

“These are people who said, ‘Yes, put my name on your re-election race,’” she said. “Having the endorsements of neighbors from all over the city makes a big impact.”

Some high-profile names on Cornett’s list include business executives, current and former politicians, former athletes, entertainers and Oklahoma City Council members.

However, Jones downplayed the support OKC police and fire unions have given to Shadid.

“I don’t know how much power there is (with that endorsement) since so many of them don’t live in Oklahoma City. He (Cornett) knew he wouldn’t get their endorsements.”

Neither union endorsed Cornett in his 2006 or 2010 re-election bids, and both times, Cornett won by large margins.

Shadid countered that union support proves his own commitment to communicate and work with local police and firefighters.

“This isn’t just about getting the endorsements. It’s important the public ask why did I get both unanimous endorsements,” the councilman said.

Fraternal Order of Police President John George and International Association of Fire Fighters President Phil Sipe agreed that Shadid has made a commitment to communicate with the departments and provide solutions to their problems.

In the last 13 years as a councilman and mayor, Cornett has rarely made the needs of public safety agencies a top priority, the union chiefs said.

“It’s rare to get a unanimous endorsement,” George said. “It translates into members and their families, the majority who live in Oklahoma City, being supportive of Shadid. We can have an influence on it (the election).”

The FOP has an estimated 1,500 members, including active and retired officers, George said.

Sipe believes each voter will decide if the endorsements are important to them.

“It’s a process that I think is valid on a lot of different levels,” he said. “There are a lot of people who respect police officers and firefighters and what they do.”

The IAFF has a membership of 940 active firefighters.

Nasty comments
Research shows that most voters rely on information provided by news media and individual campaigns, which still feed unflattering comments about the opposing candidate to the public.

“In the political consultant world, every candidate asks, ‘Why go negative?’ and I tell them because it works,” said Hartman. “People wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.”

Pat McFerron, founder of local CMA Strategies and a GOP consultant, acknowledged candidates still solicit endorsements, but they’re not always needed for victory.

“It does help people synthesize information in smaller bites, but they (endorsements) have never been the end-all,” he said. “It’s no more than 3 percent of eligible voters who say they were swayed by an endorsement.”

However, McFerron labeled Cornett’s neighborhood group endorsements and steering committee members “pretty astounding.”

“It’s a powerful force. They represent the entire city, the left and the right,” he said. “When it comes to Shadid’s endorsements from the unions, I don’t know how that plays. Police and fire departments are respected, but not the unions.”

The political consultants quoted in this story are not connected to the mayoral campaigns.

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