Fort Worth City Council candidates differ little on issues

04/16/2014 8:58 PM

04/16/2014 8:59 PM

Five candidates running for Fort Worth City Council mostly agreed on the major issues facing the city at a District 9 candidate forum Wednesday night.

“We are going to keep digging until you guys are ready to fight about something,” said Gary Cumbie, co-moderator of the event.

With less than two weeks until early voting starts, the forum, hosted by Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the Fort Worth Downtown Neighborhood Alliance and the YWCA, lasted for nearly an hour and a half and attracted about 200 people to the YWCA building downtown.

Margot Garza, 43, Greg Hughes, 57, Ed Lasater, 44, Bernie Scheffler, 35, and Ann Zadeh, 47, all answered a variety of audience-driven questions, from transportation needs and water supply in Fort Worth to the cultural diversity of the district.

“You might get tired of hearing us agree with each other a lot,” said Hughes.

All of the candidates said they support the 2014 bond package and all except Scheffler said they plan to vote for the Crime Control and Prevention District. Scheffler said the half-cent tax has been important to Fort Worth, but he is not sure yet if he will vote for its renewal. He suggested the tax money could be spent on transportation infrastructure, which the city also needs.

In regard to how they would handle the diversity of the district, which is 58 percent Hispanic, Scheffler said he would want a Spanish translator for his office; Zadeh said the entire district, not just Hispanics, needs to be engaged more; Lasater wants to help by reaching out and using translation services; and Hughes said he would promote Hispanic leadership on city boards.

“Because you know you participate a lot more if you see someone who looks like yourself already in a leadership role,” said Hughes, prompting laughs from the crowd.

In response, Garza, sitting next to Hughes, teased, “That was a freebie from Greg, wasn’t it?”

“What I would like to do is be the bridge of that community within the city and those residents,” Garza said of the Latino community.

Juan Rangel III, 28, another Hispanic candidate who has filed to run, did not attend Wednesday’s forum, did not file a campaign finance report by the April 10 deadline and has not returned calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment since he filed for election.

All five candidates at the forum said they want to increase public transportation, support water conservation, improve education and encourage redevelopment in District 9 with input from the neighborhoods.

Zadeh, who said she grew up in a family that, “if it was yellow you let it mellow and if it was brown you flushed it down,” explaining that water conservation is of the utmost importance.

Though all five candidates supported education, Lasater said the city council should meet regularly with the school leaders to identify places the city can work with them, such as with infrastructure, after-school programs and the museums.

Joel 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.

Leann Adams, a resident of Berkeley Place for 40 years, said she came to the forum with an open mind to find the right council member for District 9.

“Joel was our person and he really worked hard for us,” said Adams, adding that former councilwoman and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis worked just as hard.

“Anytime we asked them to do something, they did. We want to find someone with the same follow-through and the same commitment,” she said.

According to campaign reports released April 10, Zadeh had raised $25,257 and loaned herself $15,000; Lasater had raised $37,664 and loaned himself $100; Scheffler had raised $13,757; Hughes had raised $1,750 and loaned himself $10,000 and Garza had raised $7,865 and took out a $1,100 loan from her father.

District 9 diversity

District 9 is one of the most economically and culturally diverse areas of Fort Worth, and includes several key urban centers, including the medical district, TCU and downtown.

It stretches from Interstate 20 in the south to N.E. 28th Street, encompassing several historic neighborhoods. It has nearly 90,000 residents as of November 2013.

The area is 65 percent white, 6 percent black, 2 percent Asian and 26 percent “other.”

The election

Early voting starts April 28 and ends May 6. Election day is May 10.

If needed, a runoff election would be held 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 half-cent sales tax.

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