Although she has quickly accumulated many high-profile endorsements, Mattie Parker said she did not plan to run for mayor this year.
Parker formerly worked as chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price, who announced in January that she would not seek a seventh two-year term. Price, 71, was first elected in 2011.
Prominent Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly Jr. was widely anticipated to be the leading candidate to replace Price. But he shook up the field the day after Price’s announcement by saying he would not be running.
“When I was thinking about it, wonderful community leaders were calling me and saying, ‘Not only should you do this, you have to do this. We’ve got to pass the torch to a new generation of leadership,’” Parker said.
Occupation: Chief executive officer of Fort Worth Cradle to Career and Tarrant To and Through Partnership
Education: Bachelor of arts in government from the University of Texas at Austin, juris doctorate from Texas A&M University School of Law
Relevant experience: Former Fort Worth mayor and City Council chief of staff, associate attorney at Harris, Finley & Bogle, P.C., former district director for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, former chief of staff for state Rep. Phil King and former executive assistant to state Rep. Tom Craddick when he was Texas House speaker
Family: Married to David Parker for 12 years. They have three children: Shainey, 19; Greyson, 10; and Laney, 4
Hobbies: Yoga, attending concerts and dancing, spending time outside with her family, listening to Texas country music and rock from the 1960s.
Parker, 37, could be that fresh yet familiar face to take the reins as the city’s top elected official — a job that comes with an annual salary of $29,000. She is one of 10 candidates vying to replace Price.
If she wins, Parker would be the youngest person to be mayor since Hugh Parmer, who was 37 when he was elected in 1977.
A former lawyer, Parker is running a campaign that she says recognizes the need to be more inclusive and bring more diverse voices into decision-making to bridge the city’s racial divide while also not straying too far from Fort Worth’s moderate politics.
Parker, a Republican, wants Fort Worth to remain an affordable place to live by working with neighborhoods to ensure housing is available to people with varying incomes.
She also wants to support the Fort Worth Police Department’s continued efforts for community policing and better recruitment practices. She said it is too early to implement the Race and Culture Task Force-recommended citizens police review board because Police Monitor Kim Neal has been on the job for just over a year. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association endorsed Parker.
“It’s really critical that we focus on bringing the community together through inclusive, unifying leadership, drowning out the noise that you’re seeing in Washington right now and really focusing on what our commonalities are in Fort Worth,” Parker said. “I am willing to take the plunge and make the sacrifice and tell our story and cast a vision for Fort Worth.”
‘Representing the right generation’
That approach has earned her the support of much of Fort Worth’s political establishment. Her list of endorsements reads like a who’s who of local politics. Price, former Mayor Mike Moncrief and many of the old guard of the city, including members of the Bass family and Kelly, are backing her.
Will the endorsements matter? It’s hard to say, said James Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor. Thirty years ago, he said, they would have mattered more than today.
“What Mattie Parker has done is put together an endorsement list that looks like the old Seventh Street Gang in Fort Worth politics — that downtown business community that has been influential in running city politics in Fort Worth for a long, long time,” he said. “I think the kind of importance that endorsements had in past times that’s up for question now. It’s not at all clear that endorsements are sufficient to win a race.”
Pete Geren, a former Democratic congressman and secretary of the Army, has known Parker for 10 years, first as neighbors and then professionally through her work with U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and the city. Geren knew Parker would eventually make the jump into elected office because of her leadership roles in the community.
“I just saw early on an abled public-spirited person with leadership strengths and charisma — somebody who could be an effective public leader,” Geren said. “The opportunity presented itself sooner than certainly she would have expected, but in every way I consider her well prepared for the job and really the right person for the job and representing the right generation for the job.”
Parker is young, but she has 17 years of experience in local, state and federal politics — including five years as the City Council chief of staff; six years with Granger, who endorsed council member Brian Byrd for mayor; and four years in the Texas House working for state Reps. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Phil King, R-Weatherford.
‘We have to be better’
Parker plans to continue Price’s focus on education. It would be one of her top priorities if elected. She is the chief executive officer of Fort Worth Cradle to Career and Tarrant To and Through Partnership, initiatives aiming to ensure all Tarrant County children have access to quality educational opportunities.
“When only 23% of our students make it to a two-year or four-year credential — and if they grew up in a low-income household, it’s 14% — it’s just simple supply and demand; 65% of the jobs require some type of post-secondary credential,” Parker said, citing data from Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency. “We are leaving our kids — our Fort Worth kids — woefully unprepared to be successful in family and work in life — and we have to be better.”
One way the city can help Fort Worth ISD is to coordinate city bond elections with the school district’s and bring more community and business voices into those proposals, Parker said. The City Council could restart joint meetings with area schools boards to understand where the municipal government can better support the districts, she said.
“I don’t think they have to be this long three-hour joint drawn out meeting,” Parker said. “But how are we reporting out our current student outcomes? How can the city be a facilitator for success? Are we using city facilities to help support educational outcomes?”
The mayor, Parker said, can use her bully pulpit to bring a change in focus in student outcomes. Really, that’s about all a mayor can do in education, Riddlesperger said.
“In terms of responsibilities, there’s a very small role for the city in public education — except in being supportive of it and trying to maintain lines of communication so that the two governments can cooperate with one another whenever possible,” the political science professor said
‘A mayor is a closer’
Parker wants to pursue an economic development strategy that works for the entirety of Fort Worth. Bringing more business here — whether it be outside companies or helping residents establish small businesses — should ease Fort Worthians’ property tax bills, the candidate said.
Since 2002, homeowners have paid the majority of Fort Worth’s property tax base, according to the city.
“We have to flip the tax base,” Parker said. “It cannot be 60% residential and 40% commercial anymore.”
Fort Worth must go after what Parker called “the next big fish” by using its economic development team and partnering with the local Chambers of Commerce and other business leaders.
Together, Parker said, they have to decide how they are going to tell Fort Worth’s story to bring more jobs and people to Fort Worth.
“Let’s be clear: A mayor is a closer, they don’t open doors,” Parker said. “Anybody that’s mayor needs to have a strong bench of people behind them that are casting that vision and telling the Fort Worth story. If you don’t, it’s a disservice. It’s not a one-man band, and we won’t be successful.”
Promoting the city to an outside audience is one of the mayor’s informal powers, Riddlesperger said.
“Over the last decade, the voice of the city of Fort Worth has been Betsy Price because she has really embraced that public role of the mayor that can make a difference in terms of how the city is perceived,” the TCU professor said.
As it lures major companies, Parker said, the city has to double down on the entrepreneurs and small businesses that already exist here.
“We no longer can worry about what Dallas or Frisco are doing. We have to compete on a global economic scale,” she said. “What does it take to make sure you have the best and brightest talent that are homegrown and they want to grow their businesses here, stay here in Fort Worth? And I think if we do those things concurrently, the city is going to take off.”
One way Parker suggested to do that would be through establishing additional business accelerators, such as TechFW.
On the city government side, Parker said the next mayor and City Council will have to continue to decide which businesses receive incentives. Those decisions, she explained, need to be based on data so that the city’s economic development strategy can be as comprehensive as possible.
“At the end of the day, those are the things (that) are going to actually lower property taxes in Fort Worth, which is a concern that every Texan has,” Parker said.
Parker, a self-described scrappy small town kid from Hico, says she reflects the future of Fort Worth: a young person who moved to the city to start her career and have a family.
Parker and her husband — David, now the North Texas managing director of lobbying and consultant firm Longbow Partners — moved to Fort Worth 14 years ago.
“We were babies, and so many wonderful people opened their doors and said, ‘What can we do to make you successful? Oh, you want to go to law school? Let’s talk about that,’” she said.
Parker’s community helped her and her husband as they decided to foster and eventually adopt their daughter, Shainey, when she was 10. Shainey is now 19. The Parkers have two other children — Greyson, 10, and Laney, 4.
“That’s what Fort Worth is,” Parker said. “I don’t want to use it as a stepping stone for something else. I just want to serve my community and be in Fort Worth, Texas, which I think is really important.”
Growing up in a small town taught Parker — whose father was a lawyer and mother was a professional ballerina before becoming a paralegal — some important life lessons, she said.
“We just had these wonderful small town, take-care-of-each-other values, and I want to take that same mindset to City Hall,” Parker said.
One value was learning how to get along with people, a skill Parker picked up after going to school with the same 42 kids from kindergarten to graduation.
“I use those same principles today to work in public service,” the candidate said.
Those small-town values could come in handy if Parker is elected mayor and navigates the politics of a vastly different City Council. At least three new people will join the nine-member Council. And the city will be going through redistricting because of population growth and adding two more members to the Council.
“A new generation of leadership is here to lead the community and move us forward and face some of the tough things we’re going to have, like redistricting, in the next few years,” Parker said.
Parker recognizes Fort Worth is divided. The only way to bridge that gap, she said, is to listen to residents and hear their solutions for how they want to improve this city.
“It’s real for my husband and I because we have a 4-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 19-year-old,” Parker said. “We want to leave this place better than we found it.”