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Politics

May 1 Election Will Bring Political Change To Fort Worth For The First Time In Years

Election signs advertising many different candidates for city offices crowd a grassy hillside along a road in Fort Worth.
Miranda Suarez
/
KERA News
Fort Worth's city elections are crowded this year. Ten people are running for mayor alone, vying to succeed the city's longest-serving mayor, Betsy Price.

The city's major political leadership has been the same since 2017. This year, the mayor's and three other city council races have no incumbents running.

Every person on the Fort Worth City Council got reelected in 2019. There was no change in the membership whatsoever.

This year with the mayor’s seat and three other council spots wide open, there room for a transformation in the city’s political leadership for the first time in years.

In January, Betsy Price, the city’s longest-serving mayor, announced she would not run for reelection after a decade in office. Ann Zadeh and Brian Byrd, two sitting city council members, jumped into the race to replace her opening up their seats. Then council member Dennis Shingleton announced his retirement.

Zadeh and Byrd face a crowded ballot that includes Mattie Parker — who is Betsy Price's former chief of staff — and Tarrant County Democratic Party chair Deborah Peoples.

This race is unusual, according to Kenneth Barr, and he would know. He was mayor from 1996 to 2003 and remains involved in city affairs.

“If the balance of the Council is reelected, we will still have four new councilmembers at the table,” he said. “We haven’t had that much turnover in more than 20 years. Maybe even longer than that.”

The races are packed, whether it’s to fill an open seat or boot out an incumbent. In previous years, it wasn’t unheard of for people to run unopposed. This time around, 10 people are running for mayor alone.

Barr said local politics affects people’s daily lives far more than what’s going on in Washington or Austin.

“When I would talk to students, they would know who the president was. They might know who the governor was. But they didn’t know who the mayor was, as a general rule,” he said. “It’s interesting, because when they get up in the morning and turn on the water, or get in a car or bus to go to school or work, those are the things that the city is responsible for.”

The City Council’s duties include setting the tax rate and approving the budget. It guides development by deciding how people and businesses can use their land — a process called zoning.

Basically, responsibilities center around maintaining city services and steering Fort Worth's priorities.

The upcoming leadership change has some voters looking forward to a possible change in those priorities.

Martin Bate, who lives in the Berkeley Place neighborhood, hopes Fort Worth starts growing up — literally. He wants more housing and less urban sprawl.

"Having more apartments, more high rises, more housing in general just to ease some of the pressure off of the housing prices in the inner part of the city, and more commercial space to bring in more offices," he said.

Dana Schultes, who lives on the southeast side, said she wants city money spread out a bit more, not just focused on wealthier areas on the west side of town.

She's also worried about gentrification.

“I do want to point out that I don't want to see my neighborhood and other more economically challenged neighborhoods become just like these others on the west side,” she said.

The mayor and the Council are technically nonpartisan offices, but that doesn't mean the political leanings of those elected are secrets. Mayor Betsy Price, for example, is a Republican.

TCU history professor Max Krochmal said it wouldn't be impossible for a Democrat to take her place. The city voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 even as the rest of Tarrant County went for Donald Trump.

In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden won Tarrant County — meaning the majority of voters picked a Democrat for president for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

"I think that there's a general assumption among many longtime observers that Fort Worth will reflex to its conservative leanings of recent years, but the city has turned blue,” Krochmal said.

Krochmal also points to the city's grassroots protest campaigns. They've grown in recent years in response to incidents like the killing of Atatiana Jefferson. She was a Black woman shot and killed by a white Fort Worth police officer in 2019.

In fact, Krochmal says the national Black Lives Matter movement is one of the big reasons so many people are running for local office.

"I would say the large field is definitely related to the general volatility and openness of U.S. politics right now, and the polarization as well," he said.

There are so many candidates, it's unlikely this election will actually be decided on Election Day, which is May 1.

If one candidate can't get a majority of the vote, the election will go to a runoff. Voters will then choose the final winner on June 5th.

With dozens of candidates for mayor and city council crowding the field, those runoffs are the only result that’s guaranteed.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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