Ann Zadeh says she was built to be mayor.
She has spent the past seven years representing District 9 on the Fort Worth City Council. The 54-year-old was on the Zoning Commission for six years, appointed first by former Mayor Mike Moncrief and later reappointed by Mayor Betsy Price.
Beyond Zadeh’s public service, she has undergraduate and master’s degrees focused on city planning. Her former job was as a planning consultant helping cities with development and writing zoning ordinances.
“It’s basically what I’ve gone to school for and studied and done my whole life,” Zadeh said.
Although Zadeh is prepared to be mayor, at least on paper, the Council member must break out of a crowded field of 10 candidates who want to succeed Price as the leader of the nation’s 13th-largest city.
Occupation: Fort Worth City Council member, District 9
Education: Bachelor of arts in environmental studies policy and planning from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington
Relevant experience: Former zoning commissioner; certified planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners; Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau board member; Near Southside Inc. board member; and a member of the National League of Cities, University Communities Council.
Family: Married to Jim Zadeh for more than 25 years. They have two sons in college, Michael and Kyle.
Hobbies: Yoga, going to farmers markets and being out in the community talking to residents.
That task will be easier said than done, considering the size of the field and the three heavy-hitter candidates — local Democratic Party chairwoman Deborah Peoples, former City Council chief of staff Mattie Parker and District 3 Council member Brian Bryd.
‘It’s going to be a runoff’
Fort Worth has a strong field of candidates for mayor, said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. Although Zadeh is not a front-runner, she should not be ruled out from making it to the June runoff election, he said.
“Certainly, Ann Zadeh is on the City Council and has some high-profile currency in Fort Worth,” Riddlesperger said.
Running a citywide election can be hard for a candidate like Zadeh, who has only run in a single-member district, he said.
“Getting yourself to be well-known outside of your district can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, but Ann Zadeh has done a good job of networking across the city of Fort Worth,” Riddlesperger said. “She has a fighting chance of doing that.”
Sal Espino — a lawyer who represented District 2 on the City Council for 12 years and supports Zadeh, a Democrat — recognized the challenge ahead for his former colleague. Espino described Zadeh’s bloc as residents who want good governance, a united Fort Worth and a balanced approach to neighborhood revitalization.
“It’s going to be a runoff, in my humble opinion, and whoever can expand their base makes it to the runoff,” the former mayor pro tem said. “And then whoever can put the (biggest) coalition together, is going to be the next mayor of Fort Worth.”
Zadeh touts her experience as the factor that sets her apart from her rivals.
“I’ve been hammering home the qualifications that I have, the experience I have, the job I’ve done this far,” Zadeh said. “When I decided to announce that I was prepared to run for mayor, I didn’t make an announcement of, ‘I’m doing this.’ I made an announcement of, ‘I’m prepared to do this.’”
Among Zadeh’s priorities include reinvigorating Fort Worth’s Ethics Review Commission, which the City Council tweaked in 2019; implementing a recommended citizens police review board; and pushing for an independent redistricting committee to oversee the redrawing of the city council districts.
‘City planning 101’
Fort Worth has had a hard time attracting new business — that’s an issue for Zadeh. The city, she said, is working on it, but more can be done. As a city planner, Zadeh said, it comes back to a topic she is passionate about: quality of life.
“It’s city planning 101 as far as to what makes the city attractive to businesses,” she said.
Many of the initiatives that have improved District 9 — such as lanes dedicated to bicycles and buses, more sidewalks and mixed-use development where people live and work in the same area — could be rolled out to improve the greater city’s quality of life, Zadeh said.
“Even if you live in a more far-flung part of the city, you can have those kinds of amenities, and it makes quality of life for everyone better,” she said.
That approach could draw more business here, but Zadeh said that cannot be the only focus of Fort Worth’s economic development. She also wants to see more home-grown businesses.
“I think we do a lot to incentivize with tax incentives and that sort of thing to attract businesses to Fort Worth — I think that’s important and we need to continue to do that,” Zadeh said. “But we also need to incentivize the people who are already here who already buy in and love Fort Worth and want to stay in Fort Worth and grow their own businesses here.”
Developing Fort Worth’s commercial base is important, Zadeh said, because it can ease the tax burden on residents — who, since 2002, have paid the majority of city property taxes. Tax incentives for businesses may relieve that burden, she said. That may be a tough sell for some residents.
“I think people should see incentivizing and having more commercial taxes as being a benefit to the residential taxpayer,” Zadeh said, explaining City Hall calculates those incentives to ensure Fort Worth benefits in the long run. Businesses “may not pay as many taxes upfront, but as they go on they will either provide job growth or some other benefit to the city that outweighs the taxes that you’re deferring in the beginning.”
‘A good foundation’
Fostering more community engagement is a top issue for Zadeh. She said an active constituency builds strong neighborhoods and snowballs into improved transportation, affordable housing and an overall better quality of life.
Fort Worth does not have a problem with residents wanting to be involved in their municipal government, the council member said.
“It’s just a matter of making sure we can include everyone in that,” Zadeh said.
The mayor and council, Zadeh said, must be out in the community, meeting and talking with residents. That is something Zadeh has done during her time on the City Council. She described spending time in her district and talking to residents as one of her hobbies.
“She’s definitely accessible and also responsive,” Espino said. “She gets out there with the people, and she listens.”
Espino and Zadeh rarely disagreed, he said. They agreed that Fort Worth needed multimodal transportation, ensured zoning decisions lined up with the comprehensive plan and focused on building up and revitalizing neighborhoods — priorities, Espino said, Zadeh will continue as mayor.
“She makes informed decisions after considering all the information and data,” Espino said. “I think her heart is always in the right place. I think that she does try to build consensus.”
That skill is one Zadeh picked up while growing up at a Northern California Quaker boarding school at which her parents taught. Quakers talk through issues and make decisions through consensus, Zadeh said.
“That’s a really tough thing to do, and it’s frustrating at times,” she said. “But I think it was a good foundation for the type of work you have to do as a council member where you’re collaborating with other Council members who have constituents who might have different priorities.”
It will be a useful tool Zadeh, who opted to run for mayor instead of seeking a fourth full term as the District 9 Council member, will have to use to lead this changing city — if she can win the mayor’s seat.
“And then as mayor especially to be able to bring people together and do things that are in the interest of the individuals,” Zadeh said. “I think I have experience from a very small child all the way until being on the Council at this point of being able to do that.”
Espino has faith in his former colleague to become the next mayor.
“She obviously has been an outstanding City Council member, and she did a great job on the zoning commission,” Espino said. “Her background as a planner and in land use is really ideal for moving the city forward.”