On Day 4 of Ann Zadeh’s eight-day walk across Fort Worth campaigning for mayor, her team filmed her walking and talking with voters at  Linwood Park.

Earlier this week, Mattie Parker introduced herself to voters at that same park.

All of the candidates on the May 1 ballot are trying a variety of ways to get out the vote, but the pandemic has challenged the traditional approach of shaking hands and kissing babies.

The most obvious way candidates have adjusted is go outside, and they have stepped up their social media game to promote those activities.To the clip that they filmed at Linwood, Zadeh’s team added the Shania Twain song “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and the hashtags #whenwomenwin #marathontomayor. They posted it to TikTok, where it garnered comments and likes.

Parker live streamed her event at Linwood on Facebook, where it also attracted comments and likes.

Parker said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report that she thinks what’s different this election is the high number of forums. She thinks more organizations are having them on Zoom and having them later in the day.

With a Zoom forum, it’s harder, if not impossible, to read the room to know whether your message is resonating, she said.

Candidates also have been wearing masks in varying degrees as the pandemic continues but with more people vaccinated. 

Zadeh wore a mask in her park video, whereas Parker did not. 

And some, like Zadeh, have used their platform to encourage people to wear masks and get vaccinated. Others, like Parker, don’t think that’s their place.

“Public health officials, they’re communicating that on behalf of the residents. Businesses are operating in the ways they want to operate, and I just have not felt a responsibility to muddy the waters at all right now,” Parker said.

Partisan or public health?

Whether they feel like it’s their place or not, candidates are fielding questions about COVID-19.

During an outdoor council District 9 forum hosted by Downtown Fort Worth Inc., a moderator asked the candidates, “Do you know how many people have been vaccinated in District 9? Do you know where the immunization sites are and will you encourage constituents in District 9 to be vaccinated?”

Most didn’t know the number of those vaccinated offhand but could name a vaccination site and describe their experience getting a shot for either themselves or a loved one. But only Erik Richerson said he wouldn’t use the bully pulpit to fight COVID-19 if elected. 

“I’m American at the core,” Richerson said. “I believe in the freedoms that we have in this nation that you can make an educated decision with your family, your children and your parents on whether you want to get vaccinated or not.”

He and the other candidates appear not to be worried about the effect of what they say about COVID-19 on their number of votes.

Jordan Mims, another candidate for District 9, described in a later interview with the Report meeting a couple who questioned his wearing a mask at a campaign event. He said when he told them he was wearing it for his and others’ safety, they told him they had better genes than him and therefore didn’t worry about getting sick.

Mims, who has had two family members die from the disease, was shocked but decided not to argue with them about it, a skill he developed working as a bartender and server at Bowlongue, where he said customers are increasingly casting aside their masks.

“That person probably wouldn’t have voted for me anyway,” he said. “I think if it lost me any voters, it was just one of many things they probably wouldn’t have liked me for.”

Mims also said that even though he’s fully vaccinated, he still wears his mask when campaigning. He said he also leaves more door hangers than he otherwise would have, recognizing that people might be hesitant to open up and chat.

Opening up

Another District 9 Candidate, Elizabeth Beck, said nowadays she instinctively has a conversation about her vaccinated status before the conversation she’s aiming for when going door to door.

“Yeah, you are communicating your health information to people, but it’s really just about being respectful and making sure that you aren’t doing something that makes people around you feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Beck ran unsuccessfully for Texas House of Representatives District 97 in 2020, when the pandemic began, and said she never got to meet some of the people who worked the phones or dropped off yard signs for her then.

“This campaign I’m in the same room with them, and we’re together face-to-face, and it feels good to be able to just be there and thank the people who are supporting you and just give them those hugs,” she said.

But for some, it’s too early for such behavior.

Linda Fulmer, executive director of Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration, said she is fully vaccinated, too, but still wearing her mask and avoiding large crowds until she hears from scientists that it’s safe to do so. She hasn’t been to a restaurant in more than a year and likely wouldn’t open her door to candidates unless they were masked and standing 6 feet away.

“No vaccine is 100% effective,” Fulmer said, “and from what I understand, the researchers are still trying to determine how common is it for people who have been vaccinated to contract the virus and be asymptomatic and spread it to others.”

The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people take precautions in public by wearing a mask and physically distancing, but it also says they can visit fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or physically distancing.

Tarrant County public health officials, meanwhile, still consider the community spread of COVID-19 to be moderate, and only 17% of the population is fully vaccinated. 

More than 214,000 people in the county have been confirmed to have contracted the respiratory disease and 3,379 people have died of it as of Wednesday afternoon. 

Some candidates have gotten ill, not because they contracted COVID-19, but because of the demands of campaigning. Mims’ campaign treasurer, Cody Jackson, posted on Facebook April 13 that Mims was ill. 

In an interview with the Report, Mims said he went to the ER after his temperature shot up to 104 degrees. He still isn’t sure what caused it but is feeling better after doctors prescribed him antibiotics for a possible infection, and he got more rest. 

Byrd also missed a forum hosted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the chambers last week because he was ill, according to Star-Telegram Columnist Bud Kennedy. Byrd could not be reached for comment by the Report to confirm this or answer any further questions about his illness.

On the campaign trail

In a stark contrast to this time one year ago when bars and nursing homes were closed to the public, Beck had a happy hour meet-and-greet Tuesday at Grandma’s, a bar in historic Southside. 

“They are very strict about their mask policy. If you’re moving about the place, you better have your mask on,” she said.

Mayoral Candidate Deborah Peoples met with seniors at Vega Place Apartments that same day.

“In such a low turnout election, you have to make sure you don’t miss any voters out there and if that means going to neighborhood associations last night at Oakhurst or then the opening of a new barbecue joint on the east side then (Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair) Peoples is going to make sure she doesn’t leave anybody out,” campaign spokesman Neil Goodman said in an interview with the Report before the event.

Goodman said Peoples, who is also fully vaccinated, planned to sit on a bench and speak to attendees from 6 feet away, possibly without a mask, but she’s worn two masks at events when she felt it was necessary. He said that’s because she thinks of others.

For Easter, Peoples gave Goodman and other employees baskets containing bottles of scented hand sanitizer. 

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jessica Priest

Jessica Priest is Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter. She was previously on USA TODAY's regional investigative team. After Jessica reported that a Midland County prosecutor worked...

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