Mayor Betsy Price hasn’t faced an opponent in the past two elections, but this time around she is being challenged by a young African-American man who feels the city’s black community remains vulnerable in wake of the December arrest of a black woman and her daughters by a Fort Worth police officer that went viral on social media.
Chris Nettles, 29, who works as a Tarrant County justice of the peace court clerk and serves as senior pastor of Purpose Driven Ministries church on East Berry Street, said the case involving Jacqueline Craig and her two teenage daughters “opened the light to some other issues that needed to be dealt with.”
Faith leaders and others in the African-American community for weeks have been calling for the firing of Fort Worth police officer William Martin, alleging the arrest was too aggressive. Following an internal review, Martin received a 10-day suspension and the charges against Craig and her daughters were dismissed.
Nettles said he fears community and police relations will worsen and is calling for the creation of a citizens police review board, a body that would review complaints against the police.
“The community and police issue is huge for me,” Nettles said. “I believe we need the protection from the police officers. The traction between police officers and community all around the world is not in a good stance.
“We haven’t seen it as bad in Fort Worth as other places, but we don’t want to get there. Being a young African-American man myself, there are times I could be in fear.”
Price, the city’s 44th mayor who was first elected to the office in 2011 and is known for encouraging citizens to get involved at all levels city government, said police and community relations “is an issue that worries me.”
“The fact that we have this undercurrent with certain communities and our police department, and I don’t think it’s just our police department, some of these communities don’t feel like they’re engaged,” Price said. “Sometimes, rough relations come from lack of understanding.
“Engagement is one of the big things I’ve worked on. Engagement is what makes Fort Worth so different from other cities.”
Voters will trek to the polls May 6, In addition to the mayor’s race, the eight council seats are up for re-election. Early voting starts April 24.
Nettles, 29, has never held public office, but describes himself as an activist. As of March 31, he had raised $4,535 in campaign contributions and spent $3,331 on the race, according to campaign finance reports. Nettles was junior class president at North Crowley High School, where he played on the school’s only state championship football team in 2003.
He faces the powerhouse Price, 67, the former Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and popular figure locally and nationally. She is well-known for her health initiatives. Her campaign coffers swelled to $494,338 as of March 31, reports show. She spent a little more than $80,000 on the race and other things, the reports show.
During her tenure as mayor, she has been at the helm of some tough financial issues, including addressing the city’s pension issue, dragging a city budget out of the red and into the black in the Great Recession, and making sure there’s better accountability of citizen-approved bond dollars.
“We are in so much better shape than we were six years ago,” Price said. “That was one of the things I promised my supporters.”
Nettles acknowledges the uphill battle he faces running against Price, but is undeterred. If elected, Nettles would be the city’s first black mayor and the youngest.
“I look at it like this,” he said. “Every race is a competition and a democracy. Our world was built on people who say they can do a better job. Coming into the race is not to downplay what Mayor Price as already accomplished, but to put my ideas and thoughts in the community
“ I know she’s very popular, but it’s important the community gain more from the population than just one individual. I don’t agree with some of the stances she has stood on.”
Price said she still has unfinished goals of fixing customer service issues and improving citizen interactions with city employees and managing the city’s growth, something she says is a big challenge. Improving transportation and ensuring a qualified workforce for businesses is key, she said. She’s spearheading a literacy effort with the school district designed to have all third graders reading at the third-grade level by 2025.
“We are blessed to live in a wonderful city, and that’s why people are moving here in droves,” she said. “ But the growth also is the most serious threat to our quality of life.”
Improving transportation and education, and decreasing homelessness are issues on Nettles’ platform as well.
“Our infrastructure must continue to improve if we expect to bring more business to our city,” he said. “As mayor of Fort Worth, I will work with every agency that has a hand in our roads, streets and highways.”
He said he is targeting 18-to-40-year-old voters with the idea that, with them, the city can change.
“Your concern may not be mine, but I want to listen to you,” Nettles said.