More than $1.1 million has flowed into the race to be Fort Worth’s next mayor — and more is almost certainly on its way.

Money isn’t everything in a campaign, but it helps — especially in a crowded field of 10 candidates that after May 1 will likely winnow to two for a June runoff. It also is a good indicator of the people supporting these campaigns.

“We are in a once-in-a-decade shape of direction because Fort Worth mayors tend to hang out for a while. They stay in office,” said Thomas Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.  “It’s not a lot of money for Dallas or Houston, in terms of money per voter. It’s just that Fort Worth rarely sees these. What you’re really doing is probably electing a mayor for a decade — and, once a decade, the money starts to roll, and we’re going to see a lot more of it in the runoff.”

From January through March, the fundraising leader was Mattie Parker, the former chief of staff to the mayor and City Council. Parker, who is backed by many in Fort Worth’s business community as well as her former boss, Mayor Betsy Price, raised $653,957. Her haul accounts for nearly 58% of all contributions.

Parker’s closest rival was council member Brian Byrd, who raised $245,831. 

Only one other mayoral candidate broke through six digits: Deborah Peoples. The Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman raised $101,116. 

Council member Ann Zadeh came close to Peoples’ figures. The former city planner raised $94,705.

“I think the appeals of these people are pretty different,” Marshall said of Parker, Peoples and Byrd, the three candidates he considers to be in the top tier of mayoral contenders. “Certainly, Peoples and Parker have pretty decidedly different appeals — plus their fundraising base pretty much falls in line with that.”

Peoples’ donor base is centered on small, grassroots donations from people who likely lean toward the Democrats, are people of color and have more labor-focused interests, Marshall said. 

Of the 940 people who donated to Peoples, 18 contributed more than $1,000 each.

That’s in stark contrast to Parker who had 134 donors contribute more than $1,000. Combined, those 134 donations total $513,000 — the bulk of Parker’s donations.

Parker’s fundraising is built on large contributions from Fort Worth’s business community. James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University, described her list of supporters as looking like the old Seventh Street Gang that used to rule Fort Worth politics.

“The Parker campaign, I think, is more of a keep-on-keeping-on group inside City Hall. You know, downtown establishment, business communities and some Republicans in there,” Marshall said, adding Byrd’s campaign is similar to Parker’s, but with a slight conservative bent.

PACs supporting Parker

Parker’s largest donations came from two political action committees supported by Edward Bass, Lee Bass and Sid Bass, according to monthly committee reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. The Bass family-aligned Good Government Fund and PSEL PAC each gave Parker a donation of $50,000.

Among the four top mayoral contenders, six political action committees have donated in the race. Parker has received support from five of them: the two Bass-backed committees; $10,000 from Texas Progress Fund; $20,000 from the Safe Environmentally Responsible Transportation PAC; and $2,500 from Texas Impact.

State records show that developer Haydn Cutler has financed Texas Progress Fund; John Kleinheinz of Kleinheinz Capital Partners is bankrolling Safe Environmentally Responsible Transportation PAC; and Texas Impact is supported by employees of construction materials company CRH.

Brian Byrd
Mayoral candidate Dr. Brian Byrd talking to people during the Fort Worth mayoral open forum held at Burnett Park on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto)

JBD Towing, which does business as Beard’s Towing, funds Team Tarrant, a political action committee that donated $5,000 to Byrd’s campaign, according to state and city records. 

Peoples, Marshall said, likely has more smaller donations because she is more well known than some of the other candidates. She previously ran for mayor in 2019 and has had to run every two years to be the leader of the local Democratic Party.

“She’s been in campaign mode for years,” the UT-Arlington professor said. “If you have past donations and contacts, raising a thousand donors isn’t that hard. You just have more fundraisers and more people, whereas, at the other extreme, if you were thinking of the big chunks of money coming from a relatively few people, that may be your fundraising strategy.”

‘Highly unusual’

The largest donation Peoples received was $15,000 from a company called Vertex Asset Partners. The Fort Worth-based company also donated $25,000 to Parker.

Vertex Asset Partners — which owns properties throughout the city, according to Tarrant Appraisal District records — did not return a request to comment.

It’s not unheard of for people or groups to donate to multiple candidates who have similar positions to hedge their bets, Marshall said. Sometimes people will donate to multiple candidates just to ensure that their phone calls are answered by the eventual winner, Marshall said.

Deborah Peoples
Mayoral candidate Deborah Peoples conversing with open forum attendees in Fort Worth on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto)

Parker and Peoples are not similar, so one entity donating to both women is odd, the political scientist said.

“If you were saying $1,000 a piece, I would shrug it and say they probably knew both of them or came across both of them and they have a passive strategy,” Marshall said. “But dollar amounts in that size, handed out to two such vastly different candidates? Boy, that strikes me as highly unusual. I don’t know what they’re doing.”

‘An odd event’

Contributions in this year’s mayoral race are more than double than those from 2019, when $474,813 were raised.

This year’s fundraising figures are big for Fort Worth, but not so for other major Texas cities. 

Two years ago in Dallas, then-state Rep. Eric Johnson raised more than $1.55 million in his successful bid to be mayor. 

In 2019, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner raised $5.8 million ahead of a December runoff. His opponent, lawyer Tony Buzbee, raised $12.3 million — most of which was money the candidate poured into his own campaign.

“We are in a once-in-a-decade shape of direction because Fort Worth mayors tend to hang out for a while.”

Thomas Marshall, University of Texas at Arlington political science professor

More money has flowed into Fort Worth’s mayoral election than the races to be the top elected official in San Antonio and Austin. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg raised nearly $318,000, while his opponent raised $100,755 ahead of their May 1 election. Three years ago, Austin Mayor Steve Adler raised more than $784,000 to get a second term and his opponent, former Council member Laura Morrison, raised $141,000.

With early voting underway and Election Day approaching, the top mayoral candidates are likely to keep raising more and more money to position themselves better for the widely expected June runoff.

“We probably have seen about half of it for the first round so far,” Marshall said. “This is an odd event. In unusual times, we do see this flow of cash, which certainly wasn’t the case two years or four years or six years ago when the election was just a sort of a little formality.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment