So last year, I ran for mayor of my hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I was the underdog. I was running against a two-term incumbent, and my opponent ran the classic partisan playbook. He publicized his endorsement of Donald Trump. He publicized a letter that he sent to President Obama protesting Syrian refugees, even though none of them were coming to Tulsa.
He ran ads on TV that my kids thought made me look like Voldemort, and sent out little gems in the mail, like this. [America's most liberal labor union has endorsed]
Never mind that "America's most liberal labor union," as defined by this ad, was actually the Tulsa Firefighters Union, hardly a famed bastion of liberalism.
Never mind that while she was running for president and he was serving in his final year in that office, Hillary, Barack and I could just never find the time to get together and yuck it up about the Tulsa mayor's race.
Never mind that I, like my opponent, am a Republican.
And so when something like this hits you in a campaign, you have to decide how you're going to respond, and we had a novel idea. What if, instead of responding with partisanship, we responded with a focus on results? What if we ran a campaign that was not about running against someone, but was about bringing people together behind a common vision? And so we decided to respond not with a negative ad but with something people find even sexier — data points.
And so we emphasized things like increasing per capita income in our city, increasing our city's population, and we stuck to those relentlessly, throughout the campaign, always bringing it back to those things by which our voters could measure, in a very transparent way, how we were doing, and hold me accountable if I got elected.
And a funny thing happened when we did that. Tulsa is home to one of the most vibrant young professional populations in the country, and they took notice of this approach. We have in our culture in our city, an ethos where our business leaders don't just run companies, they run philanthropic institutions and nonprofits, and those folks took notice. We have parents who are willing to sacrifice today so that their kids can have a better future, and those people took notice, too. And so on election day, I, G.T. Bynum, a guy whose name reminds people of a circus promoter ...
a guy with the raw animal magnetism of a young Orville Redenbacher ...
I won the election by 17 points.
And we did it with the support of Republicans and Democrats. Now, why is that story and that approach so novel? Why do we always allow ourselves to fall back on philosophical disagreements that ultimately lead to division? I believe it is because politicians find it easier to throw the red meat out to the base than to innovate.
The conventional wisdom is that to win an election, you have to dumb it down and play to your constituencies' basest, divisive instincts. And when somebody wins an election like that, they win, that's true, but the rest of us lose.
And so what we need to do is think about how can we change that dynamic. How can we move in a direction where partisanship is replaced with policy? And fortunately, there's a growing bipartisan movement across this country that is doing just that.
One of its heroes is a guy named Mitch Daniels. Mitch Daniels served as George W. Bush's budget director, and during that time, he created what was called the PART tool. The PART tool allowed people to evaluate a broad range of federal programs and apply numerical scoring for them on things like program management and project results. And using this, they evaluated over a thousand federal programs. Over 150 programs had their funding reduced because they could not demonstrate success. But unfortunately, there wasn't ever a well-publicized increase in funding for those programs that did demonstrate success, and because of this, the program was never really popular with Congress, and was eventually shuttered. But the spirit of that program lived on.
Mitch Daniels went home to Indiana, ran for governor, got elected, and applied the same premise to state programs, reducing funding for those programs that could not demonstrate success, but this time, he very publicly increased funding for those programs that could demonstrate success, things like increasing the number of state troopers that they needed to have, reducing wait times at the DMV — and today, Mitch Daniels is the president of Purdue University, applying yet again the same principles, this time at the higher ed level, and he's done that in order to keep tuition levels for students there flat for half a decade.
Now, while Mitch Daniels applied this at the federal level, the state level, and in higher ed, the guy that really cracked the code for cities is a Democrat, Martin O'Malley, during his time as Mayor of Baltimore. Now, when Mayor O'Malley took office, he was a big fan of what they'd been able to do in New York City when it came to fighting crime. When Rudy Giuliani first became Mayor of New York, crime statistics were collected on a monthly, even an annual basis, and then police resources would be allocated based on those statistics. Giuliani shrunk that time frame, so that crime statistics would be collected on a daily, even hourly basis, and then police resources would be allocated to those areas quickly where crimes were occurring today rather than where they were occurring last quarter.
Well, O'Malley loved that approach, and he applied it in Baltimore. And he applied it to the two areas that were most problematic for Baltimore from a crime-fighting standpoint. We call these the kidneys of death. [Baltimore homicides and shootings, 1999] So there they are, the kidneys. Now watch this. Watch what happens when you apply data in real time and deploy resources quickly.
In a decade, they reduced violent crime in Baltimore by almost 50 percent, using this approach, but the genius of what O'Malley did was not that he just did what some other city was doing. Lots of us mayors do that.
He realized that the same approach could be used to all of the problems that his city faced. And so they applied it to issue after issue in Baltimore, and today, it's being used by mayors across the country to deal with some of our greatest challenges. And the overall approach is a very simple one — identify the goal that you want to achieve; identify a measurement by which you can track progress toward that goal; identify a way of testing that measurement cheaply and quickly; and then deploy whatever strategies you think would work, test them, reduce funding for the strategies that don't work, and put your money into those strategies that do.
Today, Atlanta is using this to address housing issues for their homeless population. Philadelphia has used this to reduce their crime rates to levels not enjoyed since the 1960s. Louisville has used this not just for their city but in a community-wide effort bringing resources together to address vacant and abandoned properties. And I am using this approach in Tulsa. I want Tulsa to be a world-class city, and we cannot do that if we aren't clear in what our goals are and we don't use evidence and evaluation to accomplish them.
Now, what's interesting, and we've found in implementing this, a lot of people, when you talk about data, people think of that as a contrast to creativity. What we've found is actually quite the opposite. We've found it to be an engine for creative problem-solving, because when you're focused on a goal, and you can test different strategies quickly, the sky's the limit on the different things that you can test out. You can come up with any strategy that you can come up with and utilize and try and test it until you find something that works, and then you double down on that. The other area that we've found that it lends itself to creativity is that it breaks down those old silos of ownership that we run into so often in government. It allows you to draw all the stakeholders in your community that care about homelessness or crime-fighting or education or vacant and abandoned properties, and bring those people to the table so you can work together to address your common goal.
Now, in Tulsa, we're applying this to things that are common city initiatives, things like, as you've heard now repeatedly, public safety — that's an obvious one; improving our employee morale at the city — we don't think you could do good things unless you've got happy employees; improving the overall street quality throughout our community. But we're also applying it to things that are not so traditional when you think about what cities are responsible for, things like increasing per capita income, increasing our population, improving our high school graduation rates, and perhaps the greatest challenge that we face as a city.
At the dawn of the 1920s, Tulsa was home to the most vibrant African American community in the country. The Greenwood section of our city was known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, in one night, Tulsa experienced the worst race riot in American history. Black Wall Street was burned to the ground, and today, a child that is born in the most predominantly African American part of our city is expected to live 11 years less than a kid that's born elsewhere in Tulsa. Now, for us, this is a unifying issue. Four years from now, we will recognize the 100th commemoration of that awful event, and in Tulsa, we are bringing every tool that we can to address that life-expectancy disparity, and we're not checking party registration cards at the door to the meetings. We don't care who you voted for for president if you want to help restore the decade of life that's being stolen from these kids right now. And so we've got white folks and black folks, Hispanic folks and Native American folks, we've got members of Congress, members of the city council, business leaders, religious leaders, Trump people and Hillary people, all joined by one common belief, and that is that a kid should have an equal shot at a good life in our city, regardless of what part of town they happen to be born in.
Now, how do we go forward with that? Is that easy to accomplish? Of course not! If it were easy to accomplish, somebody would have already done it before us. But what I love about city government is that the citizens can create whatever kind of city they're willing to build, and in Tulsa, we have decided to build a city where Republicans and Democrats use evidence, data and evaluation to solve our greatest challenges together.
And if we can do this, if we can set partisanship aside in the only state in the whole country where Barack Obama never carried a single county, then you can do it in your town, too.
Your cities can be saved or squandered in one generation. So let's agree to set aside our philosophical disagreements and focus on those aspirations that unite us. Let's grasp the opportunity that is presented by innovation to build better communities for our neighbors. Let's replace a focus on partisan division with a focus on results. That is the path to a better future for us all.
Thank you for your time.