Politics & Government

May 14, 1996

5-14-96: Candidate Davis knows experience of struggle

In her bid for a Fort Worth city council seat in 1996, Wendy Davis talked about her early struggles and later achievements.

(Note: This profile of then-City Council candidate Wendy Davis was originally published on May 14, 1996.)


FORT WORTH -- No one in her family - not aunts, uncles or cousins that she knew - had gone to college.

So despite an academic record of straight A's, Wendy Davis said, she married and had a baby the year after graduating from Richland High School. Davis moved to a mobile home in southeast Fort Worth and, after being laid off from a Dallas oil company, sat home and awaited her daughter's birth.

The experience, the City Council candidate said, gave Davis a personal understanding of struggles faced by the diverse families that live south of downtown in District 9.

"I have the intelligence to understand issues on a detailed level and the sense of fairness to do what's right," said Davis, now a 32-year-old attorney with the Haynes and Boone law firm.

Davis' opponent in the May 25 runoff election is Cathy Hirt, president of the Ryan Place Improvement Association. Early voting in the District 9 runoff began yesterday and continues through May 21.

Hirt edged ahead in the four-way May 4 election, winning 39 percent to Davis' 37 percent. Hirt had 53 more votes than Davis.

Last week, Davis was endorsed by former candidate Judy Phillipson, who won 7 percent of the first-round vote.

Davis has been the top fund-raiser and spent about $30,000 on the first leg of her campaign. She ran her campaign from a Berry Street headquarters and hired a professional campaign coordinator.

Davis credits her work ethic and drive to achieve with transforming her from a young and divorced single mother to a Harvard Law School graduate who is offering herself for City Council service.

"People think my age is an issue," said Davis, who turns 33 Thursday. "But if people know me, they know that I am one mature individual."

When her first marriage ended after her first daughter's birth, Davis said, she turned to a Tarrant County Junior College paralegal program as a short way to enable herself to earn a living.

A legal career then became her mission, Davis said, leading her on a path to Texas Christian University, where she ranked first in her 1990 class, and on to Harvard, from which she graduated in 1993.

While at TCU, Davis met her husband, attorney and former City Councilman Jeff Davis, who served on the board of Stage West, the theater where her father, Jerry Russell, is artistic director.

The couple married and bought their Mistletoe Heights home in 1987. Davis had her second daughter during her last year of undergraduate studies in English and philosophy. She and her family commuted between Cambridge and Fort Worth.

When she was accepted to Harvard, Davis said, her husband's only question was how their family would finance her three years of legal studies.

"He gave to me my adolescence. He gave me the opportunity to be a university student," Davis said of her husband, who is the president of Safeco Land Title Co. in downtown Fort Worth.

Between school sessions, Davis clerked a summer for Haynes and Boone and two summers for the prominent Fort Worth firm of Kelly Hart and Hallman. Davis deferred work for a year after her law school graduation and served as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer of Dallas.

Working with Buchmeyer, Davis said, gave her "a real sense of the power of the law" and the law being "the only area of our three-pronged government that is completely based on precedent and reason."

Supporter Kristi Wiseman, a former City Council aide who has worked on city committees, said Davis understands the complexity of District 9 in neighborhoods and businesses.

"She is the most qualified and has the greatest sense of how to help District 9 move along in terms, especially in terms of business development on Berry Street," Wiseman said.

Davis said the single most important issue facing District 9 residents is "childhood intervention."

"At least I knew there was something called college," she said. "For so many kids on the south side, that is not in their world view."

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