Sal Espino, Jim Lane jostle for position in District 2 council race

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Whoever wins the race to represent Fort Worth's north side District 2 on May 11 for another two years will be a familiar face and name.

Incumbent Sal Espino has represented the district since 2005, and challenger Jim Lane was elected in 1993, serving until he stepped down and backed Espino eight years ago.

Espino, a 45-year-old attorney who grew up on the north side, and Lane, a 68-year-old attorney who's lived on the bluff overlooking Jacksboro Highway for more than 30 years, agree on the district's needs: streets, police, fire, code compliance, economic development, education and parks. The two maintain their law practices within blocks of each other on North Main Street.

The district used to stretch from north of downtown to Alliance Airport, but was pared last year largely to the core of the old north side. Lane says he thinks Espino, who now lives with his family in the Santa Fe Enclave north of Loop 820, has lost touch with the old neighborhoods by no longer residing there.

"I think that takes away from your ability to know what's going on in this community," Lane told voters recently over a chorizo breakfast.

To that point, Lane has jousted with Espino over their children's schools. Lane, who has a 6-year-old son in a Fort Worth public elementary school, says he's the only District 2 candidate with a child in "local schools."

Espino says that's disingenuous. His Fort Worth home is in the Keller school district, and his two school-age children attend public schools there -- "in the city of Fort Worth," Espino says. He attends church in the old north side and owns property and has several family members living there, he says.

Candidate's records

Espino points to accomplishments such as the Marine Park Pool under construction on the north side. If voters approve a planned $276 million bond package next year, once that's spent, "the majority of north side streets will be rebuilt," he said.

Espino also fought to keep the north side library open, and he gets credit from Lane supporters for helping clean up the north side. Espino has support from Mayor Betsy Price, former Mayor Mike Moncrief and Councilman Dennis Shingleton.

Espino also claims the city's police and fire training center under construction on the south side as an accomplishment that will help the city recruit and train more public safety employees.

He touts economic development accomplishments, including the recent attraction of a new Walmart to Jacksboro Highway, and the rezoning of big parts of the north side away from industrial.

Espino voted for major changes in the city's employee pension last fall, designed to rein in the retirement fund's growing unfunded liability. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association and Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association have endorsed Lane, who has strong ties to them.

"This City Council has been the most fiscally responsible in the history of Fort Worth," Espino said.

Lane has criticized Espino for letting the Alliance Corridor be moved out of District 2 during the redrawing of maps last year, which is required every 10 years to even out population numbers and leave minorities in no worse shape.

Espino has responded that District 2, which had to shed nearly 60,000 people and get down to 94,000, could not have been redrawn to include the north side and Alliance and still leave Hispanics in the same shape.

To which Lane replied: "It only takes five votes on the council to get anything done. Don't tell me it can't be done."

Lane worked with Councilman Chuck Silcox to create the Comin' Up Gang program to head off gangs' growth, negotiated the city's initial Texas Motor Speedway agreement, served on councils that oversaw the ramp up of Alliance Airport and early growth, came up with the idea for the Fort Worth Herd and its daily cattle drives to highlight Fort Worth's history, and was in the middle of efforts to bring the Fort Worth Cats back to the north side and LaGrave Field and create the city's tax increment financing district for the Trinity River Vision.

"I don't see how we can lose with either one," said Hazel Pointer, vice president of the Diamond Hill Neighborhood Association.

Pointer is in Espino's camp, working most recently with him on heading off a proposed city-owned jail in the neighborhood.

"We've been very happy with the work Sal's done," Pointer said.

"I don't think the north side is going to lose either way," said Louis Zapata, the district's councilman from 1977 to 1991 and Lane's campaign treasurer.

But Zapata, who teamed with Lane to get Espino elected, said he believes Lane will do a better job of representing the north side against what Zapata views as competing downtown interests.

Handicapping the race is difficult. The historic Oakhurst neighborhood went to the near south District 9 in redistricting. A key entry in the district is Marine Creek Park, which Lane said both campaigns are competing vigorously for.

"You see all the signs up," Pointer said. "I think you're pretty well even right now as far as people who put signs up."

Hispanic politics

One key factor in the race is Hispanic politics. The redrawn district is 62.4 percent Hispanic, up from 44.47 percent before. Some Hispanic leaders said during redistricting that the north side represented their only real shot at winning a City Council seat. Hispanics haven't had a strong history of voting in local elections.

Espino has sidestepped the issue.

Lane says he doesn't want the race to be about ethnic politics. He points out he has longtime alliances with north side leaders such as Zapata, chose to live, practice and invest in the district, and created the Herd in part to celebrate the ethnic diversity of Fort Worth's cowboys.

"I consider Jim to be a Hispanic," Zapata says. "He is because of what he does."

Still playing out in the race is the role of the police and fire associations, both of which endorsed Lane after the deadline for the candidates' first campaign finance reports.

Espino reported raising $58,135 in the first quarter, to $10,699 for Lane. Espino reported he had $33,834 in cash on hand, to $1,158 reported by Lane.

Lane's report contained no contributions from the police and fire associations, but, last week, he estimated he'd received as much as $25,000 from them in recent days.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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