Two of the six candidates running for Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ seat are neck and neck in campaign funding, but a local expert warns that elections aren’t won with just money.
Ann Zadeh, former chairwoman of the Fort Worth Zoning Commission, has the most money in her campaign war chest, raising $25,257 and loaning herself $15,000, according to campaign finance reports submitted to the city Thursday.
Ed Lasater, however, a former prosecutor for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, had the most contributions, with $37,664 in donations and loaning himself $100.
Zadeh had $15,933 on hand heading into the last month of campaigning, and Lasater had $29,577.
Still, TCU political science professor Jim Riddlesperger said local elections especially are won at the grassroots-level.
“I don’t think you can have success without the shoe-leather campaigning, and I do think it is possible to succeed in local politics without much money,” he said.
With the next-highest amount in campaign money, Bernie Scheffler, owner of Trinity Bicycles downtown, had raised $13,757 and had $4,674 on hand.
Greg Hughes, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, had $1,750 in contributions and loaned himself $10,000. He is heading into the final weeks of the May 10 election with $9,129.
Margot Garza, an adviser at TCU, raised $7,865 and took out a $1,100 loan from her father. She has $6,223 on hand.
Juan A. Rangel III, 28, did not file a campaign finance report by Thursday’s deadline and has not returned calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment since he filed for election.
Riddlesperger said the amounts raised are not the only important factor when looking at the campaign finance reports, but said the number of contributors can also be an indicator of success.
“The easiest way to raise money is to have one or two or three people give large contributions, but having someone donate a small amount is actually a way of getting a commitment from someone to vote for you,” he said.
“In a local election, it is such a crap shoot as to who is going to do well because it depends on who goes out to vote, how large the number of people going out to vote will be,” he finished.
Burns, who has represented the area since 2008, announced his resignation at the Feb. 11 council meeting, saying he plans to obtain a Mid-Career Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School in Massachusetts.
Zadeh’s contributors include local attorney Francisco Hernandez, who gave $3,250 in an in-kind contribution of voter lists and outreach, and Dr. A.T. Zadeh, her largest contributor, who gave $5,000. She had a total of 55 donors.
Zadeh spent $7,000 on consulting, hiring Travis Parmer, spent $2,000 on her website and spent a total of $15,933.
Zadeh, 47, who has her master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington, has said her experience in city planning and time volunteering on the Fort Worth Zoning Commission make her uniquely qualified for the council seat.
“I’m feeling extremely confident because I just feel like I’m the most qualified candidate and people are responding to that really well. I’m a positive person who makes a decision to do something and puts my whole self into it,” she said.
Lasater has garnered big-name contributors, such as Sid Bass, who gave $1,000; the Bass family’s Good Government Fund, which gave $4,000; the political action committee of the Kelly Hart law firm, which gave $1,000; and community volunteer Marty Leonard, who gave $500.
He paid Norfleet Strategies LLC $3,500 for consulting work and spent a total of $8,595. Lasater received the second-highest number of donations at 90.
Lasater, 44, says his experience in municipal law, criminal law and in his family business, Asset Deployment Inc., make him an ideal candidate because he knows Fort Worth’s issues and has strategies to address them.
“I’m gratified to have gotten so much financial support, but ultimately I need to get my message out and meet the voters and get people to turn out and vote,” Lasater said.
Scheffler had the highest number of donations, with 98 people or organizations making contributions, from $10 to $3,000.
Some of Scheffler’s largest donations came from Mark Koch and Diane Myers Koch, who each gave $2,000, and the Texas Democratic Party, which gave an in-kind donation of $3,000 for van access.
Scheffler, 35, an avid cyclist and businessman, wants to modernize the culture in City Hall, especially by improving open access to government information and data.
“We have a very broad base of support. I would rather have a number of smaller donations, because I think that indicates the average voter is supporting me and that makes me proud,” he said.
Hughes has brought in the least amount in campaign contributions, with his donations at $1,750, but he has also loaned himself $10,000 and said fundraising is far from over.
He received a $100 donation from Cathy Hirt, who ran against Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in 2011, and had a total of 13 donations. Hughes has spent $2,770, primarily on road signs, yard signs and cards.
Hughes, 57, said his volunteer experience in the community, especially in forming neighborhood alliances and his time spent serving on the Fort Worth Transportation Authority board, make him qualified for the council spot.
“The campaign has a very strong grassroots component, and a lot of that is because we have the volunteer base with a lot of grassroots experience, but this is not exclusively a grassroots campaign by any means,” Hughes said.
Garza has raised $7,865, including a $4,000 in-kind donation from Rita Rodriguez of office space and supplies and has a total of 27 donations. She said she is behind partially because she announced her candidacy later than the other candidates.
She has spent $1,641, primarily on printing and advertising, and said she is running a grassroots campaign that has not focused on fundraising.
“Our campaign is unique. We are drawing from our strengths of neighborhood engagement, and I think that is what the City Council is all about — it is about neighborhoods and the people who live in those neighborhoods,” she said.
Garza, 43, said she is passionate about getting neighbors involved, first starting working with local voter registration initiatives with her father, community organizer Willie Garza, when she was 16.
Early voting starts April 28 and ends May 6. Election day is May 10.
In the case of a runoff, that election would be June 21, with early voting starting June 9. Burns has said he will stay on the council until a replacement is elected.
The council member election will be on the same ballot as the $292 million bond program and the renewal of the Crime Control and Prevention District sales tax.