Fort Worth

Fort Worth picked the same city council. Will it bring any fresh ideas to the table?

Betsy Price announces victory to become Fort Worth’s mayor for fifth term

Betsy Price announced her victory to supporters during an election night party in Fort Worth. Price defeated Deborah Peoples to remain Fort Worth's mayor.
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Betsy Price announced her victory to supporters during an election night party in Fort Worth. Price defeated Deborah Peoples to remain Fort Worth's mayor.

Fort Worth voters chose tenured politicians over new perspective in Saturday’s poll, re-electing the entire city council.

The faces might not be fresh, but Mayor Betsy Price and council members say they have new perspective coming off the election. Grappling with the city’s growth, from infrastructure to taxes, and building strong neighborhoods top the council’s priorities.

While watching election results Saturday, Price said residents can expect a continued focus on job creation. She believes strengthening education in the city will entice businesses to come to Fort Worth.

She expects growth will propel Fort Worth, expected to be the 13th largest city in the United States after the 2020 census. That growth plus smart budgeting could mean a reduction in the city’s property tax rate, she said.

Fort Worth will also continue to work on transportation. She mentioned plans by the Texas Department of Transportation to finish widening Interstate 35 in far north Fort Worth and revamping the city’s arterial roads.

While she said voters were pleased with the opening of TEXRail, an initiative that began before her time in office, she didn’t mention plans to expand the line or Trinity Metro.

Improving public transportation, however, was one of the more than 20 recommendations from a Race & Culture Task Force which Price said the city will be implementing. Those recommendations include a chief diversity officer tasked with helping the city identify racial barriers and bias and civilian review of the police department.

Mass transit in Dallas-Fort Worth should be handled as a region, Councilman Dennis Shingleton, the mayor pro tem, said.

“It’s not a pipe dream by any means, but it’s not something we can do alone,” he said. “We’ve got to keep pushing, but it’ll have to be with all of North Texas.”

Price’s race against Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman Deborah Peoples wasn’t easy, but Price, a Republican, snagged nearly 56% of the vote. It was the toughest race since she won her first term in 2011. She ran unopposed for two elections before facing Chris Nettles in 2017, who she beat by more than 40%.

National partisan politics dipped into the nonpartisan local race this year.

A Twitter endorsement from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, plus in-person campaign stops from Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro didn’t spur enough Democratic voters to the polls to give Peoples the win.

Price said Fort Worth voters didn’t want to hear from parties on local matters and that she would continue her pragmatic, middle-of-the-road approach to leading Fort Worth.

“I think the citizens do not want national politics,” she said. “ We always say police officers and potholes are nonpartisan.”

Races for city council saw many challengers but none could muster more than 40% of the vote.

Even in the crowded race for District 5, where incumbent Councilwoman Gyna Bivens faced four opponents, she was able to secure 66% with 2,794 votes. No other contender in that race had more than 700 votes.

A lot of attention was given to District 6, where grassroots coalition United Fort Worth sought to unseat councilman Jungus Jordan, the longest serving member. Jordan has had a rocky relationship with some, particularly those in communities of color. His vote against joining the SB4 lawsuit, challenging the Texas sanctuary city bill, and a vote against renaming Jefferson Davis Park to Unity Park angered many, members of United Fort Worth have said.

The group supported Daryl Davis Jr., who also received a boost from Peoples in the form of election day block-walking with Castro.

Still, Jordan secured 1,280 votes over Davis.

On Facebook, United Fort Worth said the election accomplished a lot. Volunteers knocked on more than 4,000 doors in southwest Fort Worth.

“While we didn’t flip District 6, we continued the long march toward building power for the marginalized and bringing democracy and justice to our city,” the post read.

Jordan said misunderstandings may happen, but he would listen to constituents and work to build relationships.

“There may be differences in opinion you know,” he said. “I believe we can’t change history, but we can learn from history and learn to deal with each other with respect.”

His focus for the next two years will be on what he called the basics of livability: safety, infrastructure and responsible spending.

“You chose to live here, you ought to be comfortable,” he said.

The closest council race was in east Fort Worth’s District 8.

Chris Nettles came within 484 votes of incumbent Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray. Nettles ran for mayor in 2017 and hoped to use that experience to boost a campaign focused on bringing greater attention to the poor neighborhoods in east Fort Worth. Nettles supported a civilian review board of the police department, one of the Race & Culture Task Force recommendations, but Gray has been skeptical, saying she needs more information about how it would work before she could support it.

In her Star-Telegram election guide questionnaire, Gray said she was worried about redevelopment ousting longtime east side residents. Her district has received targeted city investment in the Ash Crescent area, and United Riverside, across the Trinity River from downtown, has seen renewed interest from developers.

“When we are considering multi-family development it is important to look holistically at each project to ensure that new developments are not driving out current homeowners and renters creating gentrification in historically single family neighborhoods,” Gray wrote.

District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd also said he would focus on community revitalization. His district includes the Las Vegas Trail area, where a new community center has opened and crime is dropping, Byrd said. The embattled area still needs resources and will be one of his priorities, he said, along with Bomber Heights, a diverse neighborhood with aging homes and a higher crime level than some other west Fort Worth neighborhoods.

“It just needs the right kind of attention,” Byrd said.

Citywide, Byrd said Fort Worth needs to focus on the Race and Culture Task Force recommendations. Working toward racial and economic equity will be important to the city’s future.

“There’s a wealth gap, a resource gap,” he said. “We have to make sure everyone can participate.”

Shingleton called the makeup of the council “solid” and said the election showed strong leadership from his colleagues.

For him, Fort Worth’s toughest problem will be handling booming growth. His District 7 includes the Alliance area, one of the fastest growing areas in the country. In many cases the development in far north Fort Worth has outpaced city services, he said. Neighborhoods have sprung up before streets are widened or storm water drainage is improved. Some areas need parks and others need better fire protection, he said.

He urged caution and patience when it comes to handling new growth.

“We’ve got to get back to building whole, walkable communities rather than piecemeal,” he said. “I’ve got to stop helping the developer build his dream and instead work with the developer so everything is in place when the dream is built.”

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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