David Holt & Kristin Goss

Polis Recap:

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt

Rosa Golchin ('24)

Nov 20, 2022


On November 14th, POLIS hosted a discussion with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt on politics and 21st century leadership. The discussion was moderated by Kristin Goss, a professor of political science and public policy in the Sanford School. Goss opened the discussion with an overview of Mayor Holt’s history of public service, from working for the Speaker of the House in the last year of his undergraduate degree to joining President George W. Bush’s office in the early 2000’s. Mayor Holt shifted from the federal level to the state level as a state senator and eventually, the local level where he felt he could make the biggest impact on his constituents. “It seems like mayors are getting things done at a different level than other levels of government,” he noted.

A primary focus of the discussion was the unique challenges of managing a purple city in a red state and subsequently achieving a wide supporter base. Mayor Holt explained that he ran Oklahoma City as a nonpartisan and was re-elected with blue and red votes. He attributed this in part to the wide popularity of the MAPS program which he oversaw for its third and fourth years. MAPS is a billion dollar program supported by a 1% sales tax which has supported various public development projects. The most recent MAPS will go towards the construction of parks, youth centers, senior wellness centers, improved transit, and a multipurpose stadium. Mayor Holt credits MAPS’ wide appeal and investment in many different Oklahoma City communities as the reason for its overwhelming support as compared to previous iterations of the MAPS initiative. Goss summarized his approach as “pragmatism, pluralism, and compromise.”

Mayor Holt emphasized that he takes great pride in his position as mayor and finds the position rewarding. However, the challenges of compromise and truly serving the electorate is nothing short of “hard work.” Mayor Holt said sometimes disappointing the electorate is inevitable, even with having their interests in mind: “This is an art. Practice it.” Referencing his piece in The Bulwark, he explained that although people will often be mad or disappointed when you explain their ideas are not viable or likely to occur, you are more likely to gain their respect and trust through earning a reputation for truth-telling.

Reflecting on his time as an undergraduate at George Washington University in D.C., Mayor Holt said “You’re in this school because you have a heart for service, and I had that myself.” This “heart for service” ultimately led him back to his hometown of Oklahoma City where he felt he would be the “most successful and authentic.” In 2006, he served as the chief staffer to the Mayor of Oklahoma City, joining the highest ranks of city officials. When he assumed the position as mayor in 2018, Oklahoma City was the 27th largest city in the U.S.; it has since grown to be the 20th largest. This was due in no small part to the power of sports, a subject that resonates with the audience, and specifically the arrival of the NBA. In rounding out his conversation of college and the foundation it set for his political career, Mayor Holt called on the students in attendance to get involved in public service. “Your community has invested in you,” he said, “And we need you now.”

Rosa Golchin ('24)

Rosa Golchin ('24)

Rosa Golchin is a Polis Student Assistant. She is studying Political Science and Earth and Climate Science. She is interested in climate change policymaking and political theory.