One of Fort Worth’s longest-serving cuuncil members, Mayor Pro Tem Sal Espino, is facing a newcomer to city politics — retired firefighter and financial planner Steve Thornton.
Espino, an attorney first elected in May 2005, is running for his sixth term championing such issues as transportation and infrastructure improvements, getting TEX Rail to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport by 2018 and improving code compliance.
Thornton, who retired from a 28-year career as Fort Worth firefighter a few weeks ago, said he is running for the council seat in the May 19 election because District 2 needs fresh representation and he wants to focus on education, improving roads and economic development.
District 2, which stretches from downtown to the historic Stockyards and includes communities north of Loop 820 along the Marine Creek corridor and Blue Mound Road to U.S. 287, is a diverse district that includes new-growth areas in need of infrastructure and central-city areas in need of revitalization.
The district is 45 percent Hispanic, 43 percent Anglo, 6 percent black and 6 percent “other,” according to city records from redistricting in 2012.
Espino, who started serving as mayor pro tem in October, is chairman of the city’s committees on infrastructure and transportation, and municipal courts. He is also president of the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp. Espino, 47, said his experience in city government is an asset to residents.
“My experience on the council allows me to be in major leadership positions,” Espino said. “I’m a respected voice on those issues.
“I’m a strong and effective voice for north Fort Worth and for our city. I will, one day in the future, not seek re-election, but that time is not now.”
Among some of his achievements in office, Espino listed the strides the city has made in transportation, including a 2007 critical needs package, passing the 2008 and 2014 bond programs, advocating for the state to expand Interstate 35W and using gas well funds to catch up on infrastructure.
Transportation will be one of his top priorities again if re-elected, he said. He has new ideas, such as redirecting a portion of the city’s sales tax money from the general fund to a dedicated “lockbox” fund to pay for transportation projects.
One of his more controversial votes — to grant economic development incentives to the Hickman-Majestic Realty partnership for a development planned in the historic Stockyards — is moving forward, with Majestic Realty acquiring the needed property, a task force creating design standards for the area and a new tax increment finance district taking off.
Other goals for a new term include getting the long-awaited sixth patrol division for the Police Department up and running in the far north, expanding the city’s role in education and after-school activities and continuing to create in-fill affordable housing in the central city.
Espino said he supports the council’s recent votes to reduce unfunded pension liabilities, including reducing the multiplier used to calculate benefits to 2.5 percent and raising the number of high-salary years used to determine retirement pay to five years. Overtime pay is not included, unless the overtime is built into the pay base.
Espino lived in north Fort Worth for much of his life. He attended Fort Worth schools, graduated from TCU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and received his law degree from Southern Methodist University.
Thornton, 62, briefly worked as a schoolteacher when he graduated from the University of North Texas and has also worked as a financial planner since 1997. He said his retirement from the Fire Department meant it was time for him to serve the city in other ways.
“I have absolutely nothing against Sal,” Thornton said. “I know that up there in that city government there are a lot of good people, and I liken them to a delicious pot of soup, and it is a great pot of soup. But the problem is, over time it falls into status quo and all those good ingredients to the bottom.”
Thorton said he is the spoon to “stir it up” at City Hall.
Thornton said his priorities are to focus on roads in disrepair, to improve the city’s involvement in education and to bring some attention to the north side.
“I worked the far north side, and I’m trying to get your kid who broke his arm at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to a hospital, and we can’t get get down the road in our engine,” he said. “And I know we gave incentives to the developer on the north side of the road, and the south side of the road, but why didn’t we fix the road?”
He also has new ideas to bring economic development to the north side, including starting an EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program in Fort Worth.
The program, in use in such cities as Austin and Dallas, brings qualified foreign investors to targeted lower-income areas of cities, and, in exchange, provides green cards for the investors and their dependent relatives.
Thornton said his company, Thornton Wealth Management, lost one such investor looking at Fort Worth’s near north side to Dallas because Fort Worth lacks an EB-5 program.
On pensions, Thornton said they are an important city benefit, and he wants to bring his “background in finance” to the table to face the problem.
“I understand the firemen are upset about the pension issues and I don’t blame them because they got ignored,” Thornton said, referring to the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association suing the city over a refusal to let firefighters increase their own contributions.
Thornton, who grew up in San Antonio, moved to Fort Worth from Denton after graduating from college. He first worked as a teacher in Denton schools before becoming an investor in the restaurant business. Thornton became a Fort Worth firefighter in 1988 and earned a master’s degree at the University of Dallas in Irving in 1994.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984