Bud Kennedy

Despite Bernie, Beto and Julián, Election Day in Fort Worth belongs to Betsy Price

Jeff Williams speaks to supporters after taking early lead

A jubilant Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams talks to supporters at J. Gilligan's in downtown Arlington after taking a big lead in early voting Saturday night.
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A jubilant Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams talks to supporters at J. Gilligan's in downtown Arlington after taking a big lead in early voting Saturday night.

Fort Worth and Arlington have re-elected two of their best mayors ever, although not without some missteps.

So let this be a note for 2020: If people are working and times are good, even a Bernie Sanders or a Beto O’Rourke is going to have trouble knocking off an incumbent.

It was one of the most remarkable local campaigns ever. Two Democratic presidential candidates, O’Rourke and Julián Castro, made last-ditch stops to endorse in a Fort Worth mayor’s race.

Not to be outdone, recent visitor Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign endorsed in both Fort Worth and Arlington, and even for the local water authority board and Tarrant County College board.

Listen, I had no idea Bernie even cared about the lakes or the college.

But sure enough, every single candidate endorsed by national Democrats lost, some by an embarrassing margin.

(Alert to outside reporters: I’d hold off on those stories about Tarrant County turning blue.)

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Betsy Price celebrates her victory over Deborah Peoples to remain Fort Worth’s mayor on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Amanda McCoy amccoy@star-telegram.com

This election wasn’t fun for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. It was hard work running against county Democratic Party chair Deborah Peoples, and you could tell it.

Sometimes, the usually upbeat Price answered forum questions as if she were under cross-examination.

Then, on election eve, it also came to light that Price’s campaign funded a sloppy mistake of an Instagram account in the name “Millennial Fort Worth.” (Profile: “Fort Worth millennials who started #adulting [like voting]. Fan-girling on, THE queen, our Mayor Betsy Price.”)

But in the end, Peoples’ “It’s Time” campaign never explained why it was time to fire a popular, now-five-term mayor.

In Arlington, Mayor Jeff Williams was up against both Democrat Ruby Faye Woolridge and immigration hawk Ashton Stauffer, running with her own long-distance endorsement from 86-year-old Arizona lawman “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio.

After a couple of recent elections shook the Arlington establishment, Williams was feared at risk of a runoff. But he won bigger than Price.

Dallas consultant Brian Mayes ran both Price’s and Williams’ campaigns.

“I don’t think party matters that much in local elections,” Mayes said.

“In the end, what matters to voters is, did the mayor fill the potholes, is he [or she] bringing jobs here?”

Texas’ strong economy helps.

“Right now things are going well,” Mayes said: “Voters aren’t willing to make a change.”

Incumbents won virtually top-to-bottom in Saturday’s election. The governing majority remained unchanged on the Fort Worth school board and Tarrant water and college boards.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, supported Williams and had succeeded Price back when he was the county tax assessor.

“Democrats are being smart in Texas,” Wright said.

“They see the value of winning locally, and they had some gains in 2018. Republicans can do that too.”

He called Price’s win impressive.

“It would be a mistake to call Fort Worth a Republican city. It’s not. But you see Betsy, and Jeff, winning on leadership ability.”

By the time the national Democrats came to town, Fort Worth had decided on Price.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.

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