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Bynum: Allowing 2020 mid-pandemic Trump rally may have been a mistake

Chris Polansky / KWGS News
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum speaks with reporters following a July 7, 2020, press conference at Tulsa Police Department headquarters.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Thursday he still thinks about the June 2020 Trump rally at the BOK Center "every day," and remains unsure whether he made the right decision by allowing it to go forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'd like to say that in a job like this you just make decisions and move on and never think about it again, but I continue to think, at least once a week, through the different options that were available to us then, and I still couldn't tell you today if it was the right decision or not," Bynum told POLITICO journalist Megan Messerly during a video interview conducted as part of POLITICO Live's "The Fifty: America's Mayors" programming.

Bynum said his decision not to stop the rally, which went against the recommendations of Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart and came in spite of a letter signed by hundreds of local health care workers, was inspired by the city's response to protests following the police killing of George Floyd.

"On the one hand, we had just facilitated, using our police department, weeks of protests in the street, allowing people to make their voice heard after the murder of George Floyd," Bynum said. "And I had people on the right end of the political spectrum saying, 'Hey, you shouldn't be allowing people to gather and have these protests, you need to use the police department to shut it down.'

"And then as soon as President Trump made his announcement about having a rally in Tulsa, I started hearing from people on the other end of the political spectrum saying, 'Ah, you need to shut that down and not allow it to happen.'"

"We were not going to shut down the freedom of one end of the political spectrum or the other to raise their views and make them heard," Bynum said.

Bynum said the decision was not political at all, but based purely on "principle" and "free speech."

In the Thursday interview, Bynum called it a "pleasant surprise" that the rally ended up being sparsely attended. Still, in 2020, Dart said the rally had likely contributed to a spike in COVID cases. While not definitively known to have been connected to the rally, attendee Herman Cain, a former presidential candidate, went on to die of COVID weeks later.

Bynum, a Republican, did not attend the rally, citing a policy against attending partisan campaign events, but did greet Trump upon his arrival on Air Force One. At the time, Bynum said Trump's visit was a "tremendous honor."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.