Tahlequah voters elect Catron as mayor
TAHLEQUAH – After months of campaigning and balloting that only drew 25 percent of the electorate, Tahlequah has a new mayor, Sue Catron.
She unseated Jason Nichols, a Cherokee Nation citizen who held the mayoral seat for eight years and ran for Oklahoma’s Second U.S. Congressional District in 2018. Nichols won the Democratic primary, but lost the general election to incumbent Republican Markwayne Mullin, also a CN citizen.
Catron is not Cherokee, but her spouse is a CN citizen. After growing up in Wagoner, she moved to Tahlequah to attend Northeastern State University.
“I fell in love with Tahlequah and Cherokee County,” Catron said. “Shortly after graduation I got a job as an accountant at NSU. It was there that I met and married Jerry Catron. Thirty-four years later, we have a blended family of five adult children and 13 grandchildren.”
Jerry Catron grew up along Caney Creek at Tailholt, and Sue said he has encouraged and supported her endeavors throughout the years.
“It is because of him that I was able to return to school to earn an MBA and become a CPA,” she said. “Most recently, his urging helped me decide run for mayor.”
Within its 14-county jurisdiction, the CN observes local politics with significant interest because the tribe often collaborates with municipal and county governments on projects.
“There would be no Tahlequah without the Cherokee Nation,” Catron said. “The Nation is our past and it will be a significant part of our future. While we are two separate entities, many of our objectives are similar. I definitely am interested in exploring future collaborations and agreements with the Nation.”
Catron said she wants to complete the remaining bond projects, “fixing the streets and building sidewalks with the funding available.” Grant and partnership opportunities will be sought, and she hopes to minimize the inconveniences of construction projects with “planning and communication.”
“Tahlequah’s current growth is being spurred by the Hastings (hospital) expansion, the (Oklahoma State University) medical school and the new (Cherokee Nation) casino,” Catron said. “One of my priorities is also to recruit new businesses and support our existing businesses. Our challenge is to encourage the families who move to the region in support of these new opportunities to make their home in Tahlequah. We must be the city of choice, welcoming these new additions to our family.”
With the election decided, Catron said she is mayor of a city unique in its historical culture, and that progress would not be accomplished through any single entity or group.
“Our citizens with their caring, can-do attitude and pride in our community will make our change possible,” she said. “I look forward to working with our community, the new (city) council and with our regional partners.”
Now out of elected office, Nichols isn’t sure what he will do next, but expects to continue serving the public.
“I’ve always viewed public service as an expression of the sense of community I feel about Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma, or even the country as a whole,” Nichols said. “It's one thing to say you feel connected with others, but that connection has to be backed up with deeds and action.”
Nichols credits his upbringing and awareness of his lineage as factors influencing his wish to serve his neighbors.
“I was fortunate to grow up being taught an extra concept of community, of tribe,” he said. “I’ve tried to couple that with a work ethic I was also taught when I was young and consider myself fortunate to have been able to have been of simultaneous service to my hometown and my tribe’s capital.”