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Fort Worth voters mull mayoral choices

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, Reporter: For all the public outrage over building a $160 million hotel and rolling out new garbage carts, the crowd at a recent candidate forum on Fort Worth's North Side was decidedly focused on other priorities.

Voter #1: I am particularly interested in the gang prevention because I think they're trying to do away with that.

Voter #2: My concerns are the new toll road that is being considered.

Sprague: The voters at this meeting were members of the church-based group Allied Communities of Tarrant (ACT). They pressed candidates for their positions on increasing funds for the city's anti-gang unit. All four candidates present promised to support the proposal. In fact, they hardly disagreed on any issue. Jim Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University, isn't surprised. He says the topics of this campaign have little to do with the political storm that rocked city hall for a year.

Jim Riddlesperger, TCU Political Science Professor: Mostly, they're issues of style, issues of experience, issues of representation and not really issues of policy.

Sprague: The two major candidates in this race, former city council woman Cathy Hirt and former state senator Mike Moncrief, basically agree that rural residents should vote before they're annexed into the city and that tax abatements should be handled on a case by case basis. So in public and in their campaign literature, they've clashed over more personal issues. Here's Mike Moncrief at a League of Women Voter's forum:

Mike Moncrief, Candidate for Mayor: This race is about leadership, integrity and trust. Those are qualities that must be earned over time, cannot be bought overnight.

Sprague: That's a direct reference to the $200,000 donation Cathy Hirt received from members of the Moncrief family, who are locked in a feud with the former state senator. Candidate Moncrief has also taken aim at Hirt's Tennessee roots. And, during a debate at KERA, Cathy Hirt questioned a pact Moncrief made with outgoing mayor Kenneth Barr to run for the office only if Barr retired.

Hirt: I think that courtesy is very noble but I think real leadership speaks to conviction. I just wouldn't have made a promise like that one. I think the leadership issue far exceeds courtesy in issues of politics.

Sprague: Paul Geisel, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, where Cathy Hirt has also taught, says Hirt ran for mayor intending to make the convention hotel, annexation and other hot topics the center of her campaign. He adds that Mike Moncrief has taken some of the air out of that strategy by distancing himself from many of those controversies. But the comparison has stuck.

Paul Geisel, UTA Professor of Urban Affairs: The way most people cast this election is they see Moncrief as a continuation of the present process and Cathy Hirt as an alternative.

Sprague: Take the current trash debate, as an example. The new policy features once-a-week pickup and requires residents to recycle and use carts instead of bags. Older residents complain the carts are too heavy and others have called for more frequent pickups. Mike Moncrief wants to modify the program.

Moncrief: I believe recycling is something we all should pursue. Right now, the program is not working as well as it needs to.

Sprague: City leaders seem to agree. On Tuesday, mayor Kenneth Barr proposed improving the much-maligned carts and delaying the switch to once a week trash pickup. But mayoral candidate Cathy Hirt wants to go one step further and reverse the new trash policy.

Cathy Hirt: I do favor the notion that we have recycling. I don't favor that we have an involuntary program. I'd like to see us go back to a voluntary recycling program.

Sprague: None of the other candidates actively campaigning in the mayor's race supports Fort Worth's new trash program either. Elliot Goldman is running to resume twice-a-week pickups and lower property taxes. Marilyn Hodge wants to end corporate tax abatements. And Andrew Hill pledges to make Fort Worth "funky." But even if the candidates find common ground on many issues, voters seemed to have had little trouble picking a favorite. More than 16,000 cast ballots in early voting this year. That's more than the number of early and election day ballots combined in the last city election. The election is Saturday. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.

Email Suzanne Sprague about this story.