Incumbent W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and challenger Brian Byrd aren’t mincing words in their campaign for the District 3 seat on the Fort Worth City Council, a race that has drawn big donations, seen big spending and stirred some commotion over the placement of campaign signs.
Byrd has raised nearly $95,000 in campaign contributions, about half of that before he could even file for a place on the ballot. He’s also spent about $60,500 on the race, according to the latest campaign contribution reports filed with the city.
Byrd said he called Zimmerman last fall and told him he would oppose him in the 2017 bid. In November, he paid $499 to take classes from Fort Worth-based Frontline Political Strategy to learn the nuts and bolts of running for office, according to his campaign finance reports. He also began paying political consultant Luke Macias from the San Antonio area $1,000 a month.
Zimmerman was first elected in 2009, but hasn’t faced an opponent since.
Zimmerman started the campaign with a war chest of just under $120,500 at the first of the year and since has raised an additional $37,393, the reports show. He has spent $95,393, nearly $86,370 of which went to Austin-based Murphy Nasica to run his campaign, reports show.
Taxes and roads
Byrd, in certainly what is not a new tactic by a political newcomer, says it’s time Zimmerman step down so the council can gain fresh eyes. “Some of the best leaders have never held office,” he said. “That’s exactly what Fort Worth needs, fresh eyes.
“I’ve knocked on 4,300 doors and talked to 1,800 people,” Byrd said. “No one else has the knowledge I have of the district.”
Byrd, 46, a physician, said his leadership running his medical clinics and a hospice care company gives him enough of a background to hold public office.
Zimmerman, 74, who is seeking his fifth two-year term, says Byrd is trying to run a popularity contest and that “he certainly doesn’t understand city government. He doesn’t even know where the district lines are.”
Moreover, Byrd is pandering to residents, promising things he would have no control over on the council, reflecting how little he knows about the city, Zimmerman said.
“The voters need to look very carefully at the résumé of the two candidates,” Zimmerman said.
The two men do agree on three things, however. Both candidates say the property tax rate must be lowered, public safety improved and streets better maintained. They are the common issues pulsing through just about every City Council campaign this year.
“My top priority will be to lower the property tax rate so that residents don’t see an increase in their city taxes even if property values continue to escalate,” Byrd said. “We can do this and still ensure excellent city services. Fort Worth has the highest tax rate in the state of any major city.”
Said Zimmerman, “My top priorities are fixing roads, keeping our homes and neighborhoods safe, and doing it with the least tax dollars possible We must make City Hall better at providing effective service at the lowest cost possible. When we cut waste and cherish taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, we leave more funds in the hands of families, which improves our local economy.”
Registered voters will cast ballots May 6 to elect a mayor and eight council members. Early voting begins April 24. District 3 starts at Texas Christian University and the Fort Worth Zoo on University Drive, spreading to the far west reaches of the city, and from just north of White Settlement south to Benbrook.
The District 3 race has taken on a bitter tone.
Early on, accusations flew that Byrd was putting campaign signs in the yards of residents who didn’t ask for them. Within a day of those signs showing up, residents reported getting a robocall during which an offer was made to take down the Byrd sign. The return phone number went to the Zimmerman campaign.
Zimmerman’s campaign called Byrd’s actions a “dishonest campaign tactic.” His campaign did go pick up signs when asked to.
Byrd acknowledged there were instances where signs did go in yards of residents who didn’t ask for them, but that those were only a few. He said it happened the day volunteer teams fanned the district to put signs up and there was some miscommunication. Byrd said he also retrieved signs when asked to.
In other issues, Byrd said he is concerned about human trafficking. He says Fort Worth could be a “hotspot” of human trafficking because of the convergence of major interstates here. He wants to lead the city on the issue. He said he wants to see “john schools” established, or education programs for people who are caught soliciting sex and how their actions contribute to the human trafficking issue.
“This is something that’s becoming more and more a national issue,” Byrd said.
Zimmerman, a consultant and retired Lockheed Martin executive, said he is concerned about the homelessness issue. “That has got to be solved,” he said. He favors selecting one group to “steer the ship” on the issue.
Zimmerman is touting his accomplishments during the eight years he’s been on council, including helping to turn a multimillion-dollar budget deficit around, improving contracting for capital improvements by supporting better coordination of the work to be done and working with the Texas Department of Transportation on major road projects in the district along Interstates 20 and 30.
Byrd said he was encouraged more than 14 years ago to run for City Council. Three years ago, he sold his medical businesses and last fall decided he had the time to commit to a run full time.
“For me, on this, it was all in or not at all,” Byrd said.