Fort Worth’s City Council District 8 race red hot

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The City Council District 8 race in southeast Fort Worth between incumbent Kelly Allen Gray and challenger Kathleen Hicks is heating up in the closing days of the campaign before the May 11 election.

Gray, elected last year to fill the remainder of Hicks’ term when Hicks stepped down to run unsuccessfully for Congress, have been jousting in forums over redistricting and the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s endorsement that went to Hicks.

More recently, Gray’s mediation of a pending zoning case involving the McDonald Community YMCA, which wants to sell its old East Berry Street site and move a few blocks away to the new Renaissance Square development, has emerged as an issue.

“I have no idea where this is going,” Wanda Conlin, a West Meadowbrook leader and zoning commission member who’s backed Gray, said of the race. “Nobody has an advantage anywhere.”

In the dispute over the Y site, neighborhood associations support the Y’s request for a rezoning that would allow apartments, but a church across the street and other detractors say they don’t want more apartments. The issue pits Gray against Hap Baggett, the developer who led the yearslong Renaissance Square campaign that finally drew a Walmart and numerous other major chain stores to the development-hungry central-city neighborhood.

“Ms. Gray has no business being on the City Council,” said Baggett, who began working with Hicks on the project several years ago when she was on the council.

Hicks lobbied for the vote that installed a tax increment financing district and led to the redevelopment.

And Baggett, who is facilitating the zoning case for the neighborhoods and sales transaction for the Y, says he is seeking other opportunities in southeast Fort Worth. He views the area as prime for redevelopment, because it’s close to downtown, major highways, new services and public transportation.

“I think the re-election of Ms. Gray would be very detrimental,” said the Rev. Carl Pointer, a community leader and Hicks backer. “She does not know how to work with the communities. She’s alienating the only developer of any consequence doing any work over here.”

But Gray said in an interview that “no one is opposed to the Y moving and builidng a better facility. The bigger question is apartments.”

The potential density — a maximum 18 units per acre in the 17-acre development — is too much for an area that has more than 1,500 apartments, she said.

“I’m not messing with Hap,” she said. “I represent the citizens of District 8 who have a concern with what’s happening in the community.”

The zoning commission voted 6-3 in favor of approval, sending the case to the City Council on May 7. Baggett said he has asked for a continuance until after the election “so I don’t put pressure on other council members.” The Y would use the $1.2 million from the pending sale of its site to a partnership to buy a discounted site at Renaissance Square.

Gray declined to say how she plans to handle the case at the City Council. Conlin, who made an unsuccessful motion at the zoning commission to deny the Y petition, said she is also concerned about apartments. Baggett, however, said the proposed development would focus on young professionals, with rents of $1.20-$1.25 per square foot.

Supporters centered their arguments on how much they trust Baggett, Conlin said. That’s a faulty argument, because he’s only trying to line up the apartment developer and won’t own the development, she said.

“It wasn’t anything about land use, at all,” Conlin said.

The zoning case is one piece of a busy first nine months on the council for Gray, 44, who lives in Riverside. The district includes Morningside, Polytechnic Heights, parts of Riverside, Rolling Hills, parts of Meadowbrook and Hallmark/Camelot to the far south.

Gray participated in a 5-4 vote to block a water-rate increase. Gray took flak from community leaders for allowing Spinks Airport go to another district in a redrawing of council maps. Gray said the move was necessary to help maintain a strong black opportunity district and help the maps pass muster with the Justice Department, which approved them.

The issue surfaced again during a recent meeting in south Fort Worth’s Hallmark/Camelot neighborhood attended by Gray and Hicks. Gray declined to discuss the issue in the interview.

“It’s only an issue for those people that don’t have another issue,” she said. “I’m through talking about it.”

Gray, whose husband is a 21-year Fort Worth police officer, recused herself on votes to make major changes to the city’s pension and approve a police contract. The police and Fort Worth Professional Firefighters associations endorsed Hicks in the race.

The police association has said it declined to endorse Gray because of the recusals.

“I won’t sell my vote,” Gray said during the South Fort Worth forum, prompting Hicks to call that a “low blow.” At a subsequent forum put on by retired city employees, Hicks raised Gray’s statement, saying, “I really resent that.”

“It wasn’t a shot at Kathleen,” Gray said in the interview.

Gray said she wants her next two years to be chiefly about cleaning up East Lancaster Street in the district, opening up opportunities for redevelopment. She’s asked code and police to work the area, and formed a committee to help direct the efforts.

That helped earn the support of Conlin and her husband, Don Boren, who supported Hicks in previous elections and last year supported Gray’s opponent, Poly businessman Ramon Romero. West Meadowbrook went heavily for Romero.

Gray’s “done a wonderful job in nine months,” Conlin said. “She’s accessible. She’s going to do whatever she can.”

Hicks, 40, who grew up in Rolling Hills, lives in Meadowbrook, and represented the district on the council from 2005 to 2012, has been running “to finish the job” she started.

She points to accomplishments including the East Berry TIF, setting the zoning in the area that faciltated the development, and finding the money that rehabbed Cobb Park.

“Even the late [Councilman] Chuck Silcox, who hated abatements of any kind, supported the TIF,” Hicks said.

On being endorsed by the public safety associations, Hicks said she’s particularly concerned that general employees, not represented by unions, are “voiceless.”

“The city has to continue to make tough decisions,” she said. “The city employees understand that. My feeling is if we can find the money for whatever, we can also find money for our employees.”

Hicks, who angered many in her district when she stepped down to run for Congress then didn’t back eventual winner Marc Veasey in a runoff, discounted the political risk that she’s taking in trying to regain her council seat.

“There’s always a potential risk when you sign your name on the dotted line,” she said.

Both candidates were asked during a recent Meadowbrook forum to commit to serving a full two-year term. Hicks did not.

“Many people go and run for other things,” she said then and in an interview. “Service is in my blood. I’m doing this for the community in which I was raised and which I love.”

Gray said she has no interest in another office. “This is my dream job,” she said.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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