Mayor Betsy Price has competition.
Democrat Deborah Peoples announced Tuesday night she is running for mayor in Fort Worth.
As Peoples addressed a crowd of several hundred people at 6 p.m., the back room of Angelo’s BBQ slowly became louder and louder. By the time Peoples arrived at the peak of her speech, the room was in an uproar.
“I believe it’s time. Time to stand up for Fort Worth, and time to stand up for each other,” she said to applause. “We have one chance to get this right. And we need a mayor who will stand up for all of us.”
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The crowd started to chant, “it’s time” as Peoples continued.
“I am Deborah Peoples and I am running for Mayor of the City of Fort Worth,” she concluded.
Peoples was born in Texas and, 43 years ago, started working in Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission. She said the work taught her the importance of keeping city government accountable to its residents.
Peoples has been the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair since 2013. Before that, she was a vice president for AT&T for 33 years.
“Many people do not feel like leadership listens to them,” Peoples said in an interview. “You have to have vision to be a leader. And I think in Fort Worth, we have been kind of lumbering from crisis to crisis.”
Peoples addressed recent developments in the Fort Worth police department, such as Chief Joel Fitzgerald accepting a job in Baltimore and then withdrawing his name from the nomination due to a family emergency.
“I believe that when somebody is ready to go, you need to let them go,” she said. “Obviously Chief Fitzgerald is ready to go. I understand what’s going on with his son, and we have to be cognizant of that and give him time to get through that. But I think ultimately if the chief wants to go, then we need to let him go.”
On Tuesday, five Fort Worth officers were fired for their role in a man dying in police custody in July.
“Right now there is this sense of distrust between part of the population and the police department,” Peoples said. “The residents have to trust that when they call them, they will be treated with dignity and fairness.”
Peoples also said she wants to shift the tax burden off residents, take care of small businesses and be more transparent as a leader. She mentioned the Trinity River Vision Authority Project and the audit Price called for on the Panther Island project. She said the audit only came about after people began to pay attention to the problem.
“That is not transparent,” she said.
Peoples said groups like United Fort Worth, a cross-cultural grassroots alliance group that has criticized local leaders, “is what happens when you have a divided city.”
“That group grew up out of the city’s refusal to join SB4,” she said.
SB4, or Senate Bill 4, is a controversial “sanctuary cities” bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May 2017. The bill prohibited local authorities from passing measures that would prevent law enforcement from questioning detainees about their immigration status.
In August 2017, the Fort Worth City Council voted 5-4 against joining a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston joined the litigation. Protesters and members of United Fort Worth strongly opposed the council’s decision.
“You have to have a leader who is willing to sit down and make collaborative decisions,” she said. “Then groups like United Fort Worth become part of the bigger family.”
Peoples said she chose her campaign slogan, “it’s time,” after sitting down for listening sessions with residents. She said people kept saying it was time for changes in the city.
“It is time. We could be the model for big cities. But we have to start working on it,” Peoples said.
An 8-year incumbent
On Jan. 3, Price officially announced her bid for re-election. Price is in her fourth consecutive term and if she wins the upcoming election in May, she will become the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth history.
In her re-election speech, Price said she would continue to focus on growing and diversifying Fort Worth’s economy. To do that, she said, the city must prioritize education.
In the past, Price, a fiscal conservative, has focused on economic development, education and transportation.
Recently, Price has faced criticism from United Fort Worth. At a city council meeting, the group condemned Price and the other Fort Worth leaders, saying they not doing enough to condemn recent hate speech in the city.
Price, elected first in 2011, faced a re-election challenger for the first time in 2017 in newcomer Chris Nettles, a minister and justice of the peace clerk. She sailed to an easy victory with about 70 percent of the vote.
Luke Ranker contributed to this report.