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Politics

Fort Worth Elections Results More Evidence City’s Growth Is Affecting Its Politics

Mattie parker standing in a yard with trees behind her.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News

The runoff elections saw both continuity and change.

Fort Worth Mayor-elect Mattie Parker started her campaign with very low name recognition but won over 46,000 runoff votes, more than double what she got in the first round in May.

“She built, in a very short time, a pretty broad coalition of voters,” said Dee Kelly Jr., a Fort Worth attorney and Parker supporter.

The other runoff candidate, Deborah Peoples, also increased her support, from more than 20,000 to more than 40,000 votes.

Parker, who'll be sworn in June 15, runs an education nonprofit and was longtime chief of staff to the woman she'll replace, Mayor Betsy Price. Her opponent, Deborah Peoples, would've also made history if elected, as the city's first Black mayor.

Parker, a Republican, represents continuity with the tenure of her former boss, current Mayor Betsy Price. Yet taken as a whole, Fort Worth’s local runoffs had mixed results ideologically. (The seats are officially nonpartisan.)

Two longtime incumbents won't be returning to the city council, Jungus Jordan and Kelly Allen Gray. Unseating them were Jared Williams and Chris Nettles, both young, progressive Black men.

Dee Kelly Jr. said the city is constantly changing — it grew over 20% from 2010 to 2019. That kind of influx shifts the composition of a council district and the kind of candidate it may want.

“The candidates who did upset the incumbents, they had their finger on those shifts and the changes in those districts,” he said.

Bob Ray Sanders, a journalist and co-chair of the Fort Worth Task Force on Race and Culture, thinks Peoples’ failed citywide campaign helped pull the new councilmembers over the top by boosting turnout among Black and brown voters, especially in Williams’ district.

“Even though it didn’t work out for her, in [District 6] it worked out that a minority male was elected to the City Council in a district that’s never had a minority to represent it,” Sanders said.

After the candidates are sworn in June 15, there will be four people of color on the city council, out of nine total votes when you include the mayor.

Sanders also pointed to the upcoming redistricting process that could address historical discrimination in how council districts have been drawn.

“We’ll see... in September how they draw those lines, and whether or not we are able to add more Hispanics and more Blacks to the Council,” he said.

Among the parts of the city located in Tarrant County, about 18% of registered voters turned out during the runoff, compared with 14% in May. There are also small slices of Fort Worth in Denton and Parker Counties.

Fort Worth native Royce Brooks, Executive Director of Annie’s List, which supports progressive women candidates in Texas, said Tarrant County will continue to be a battleground in statewide elections.

She noted Parker’s campaign donations far surpassed Peoples'. According to records reviewed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Parker raised $1.78 million from January 15 to May 26, compared with Peoples’ $688,683.

“Republicans know that they can no longer just expect to walk away with these elections,” Brooks said. “We’re seeing more and more people engaging with us, looking to understand how to get involved, how to run for office.”

Yet in local municipal elections, voters have often met or sometimes personally know the candidates. And local issues like policing, transit and building projects often motivate voters to support or reject a candidate.

That’s why putting a national narrative on local, nonpartisan races doesn’t really work, Kelly said.

“While they certainly trended more partisan this time, I don’t think the majority of Fort Worth people look at it that way,” he said. “And I think that’s what I’m happy about.”

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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