Residents in large swaths of Fort Worth do not yet know who will represent them on City Council.
Because no one earned more than 50% of the vote on May 1, districts 6, 7, 8 and 9 will go to a runoff on June 5.
With early voting on the horizon, the Fort Worth Report asked the candidates what they thought was the biggest challenge facing their district. Many couldn’t confine their answers to one. The Report then asked why they were the best candidate to meet that challenge. What emerged is what the Report hopes is a useful tool to its readers heading to the polls.
Public safety is one of the issues Jungus Jordan and Jared Williams are both discussing on the campaign trail.
The Fort Worth Police Officers Association endorsed Jordan.
“Crime rates are increasing across our nation while Fort Worth continues to be ranked one of the safest major cities in the nation because we pay attention to it, and we do not defund our police,” he said in an interview with the Report.
Jordan praised the police department’s training and de-escalation techniques.
Williams hasn’t said he would defund the police, but wrote on his website that the way to keep district 6 safe was by improving transit, streets and community gathering places. He also wrote about how developing a path to homeownership and setting standards of transparency and accountability for police is part of that.
On April 26, Williams criticized the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s mailer, which listed the wrong candidates running for District 6 on May 1.
“I wonder how many voters they will confuse with this,” he wrote.
Jordan is in his eighth term representing south and southwest Fort Worth. During that time, he said he’s become an expert on transportation and was part of improving “virtually every interstate and mode of transportation” in the area. This includes Chisholm Trail Parkway, a toll road that opened to drivers in 2014 and cut by half the time it takes to travel between Cleburne to Fort Worth.
Williams said in an interview with the Report that there’s more to be done because people living in the neighborhoods of Summer Creek, Chisholm Trail Ranch and Wedgewood have to watch out for speeders while walking to school or the swimming pool.
He said the doctorate he received from the University of North Texas in environmental science and science education with an emphasis in sustainable urban planning make him the best candidate to solve this and other issues facing the district.
The Report could not reach either of the candidates in this race, Zeb Pent or Leonard Firestone, by deadline. The two participated in a forum hosted by Texas A&M and the Camp Bowie District May 6. Both men said being an entrepreneur – Pent in oil and gas and Firestone in running a distillery – made them ideal candidates to replace longtime District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who chose not to run for re-election.
They disagreed, though, on how well the city has dealt with people experiencing homelessness and has handled growth.
Firestone said there is already a panhandling ordinance; Fort Worth just needs to enforce it and connect the less fortunate to police and nonprofits to connect them with services.
“That’s essential and probably needs to improve and certainly be maintained, but we’re probably going to need resources of time and money to get better at those things,” Firestone said.
Pent connected a rise in loitering and panhandling in the Camp Bowie district to the cleanup of the Las Vegas Trail area. He said the nonprofit in charge of cleaning up the Las Vegas trail area didn’t solve the problem, just moved it, so the city should delegate solving the problem to another, better nonprofit.
Firestone said he thought the city had done a good job balancing the needs of the neighborhoods and businesses while growing and touted his support from Mayor Betsy Price and Shingleton. Pent said it took more than a year to get three stop signs installed between West 7th Street and Camp Bowie Boulevard and infrastructure lags behind the growth in North Fort Worth.
“The next council will have many issues to address when it comes to the mistakes that have been made, and I want to be a representative of all people from Arlington Heights to Alliance, not just the west side of Fort Worth. That has not been done to this point,” Pent said.
The forum was live-streamed, and some audience members questioned how he would represent everyone based on his previous anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant statements.
When Lee Henderson conceded from the District 7 race, he referenced this in a statement.
“Zeb Pent is unquestionably dangerous for our city. His lack of Fort Worth values makes him the wrong choice in this race and for public office altogether,” Henderson wrote.
Incumbent Kelly Allen Gray often fields complaints about District 8’s lack of amenities and grocery stores in particular. It’s coming up again in her race against Chris Nettles with the daycare center owner and operator pointing out how the 76104 ZIP code has the lowest life expectancy in Texas.
“My opponent has been in office for nine years, and a lot of things that have happened that have not been good for our district happened under her watch,” Nettles said.
If elected, he will push the city to offer to another interested grocery store the type of tax abatement that lurred a Walmart to the area a decade ago. He also has a list of projects he wants to see come to fruition, including a golf course renovation and an art museum opening.
Gray said getting a grocery store for District 8 is easier said than done and she’s been working hard for her constituents during her time on council.
Gray said she’s worked with State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, on at least one bill to get more money for affordable housing. Gray also talked about standing with constituents to fight proposed zoning changes in their neighborhoods if she believed such a change would be harmful.
“During some of the toughest times in our city and district, I have been a voice and an advocate for change and for equity and for inclusion, and I want to and will continue to be that voice,” she said.
Fernando Peralta said that one of the reasons he’s the best candidate to represent District 9 is because he looks like and speaks the language of a majority of residents there. Peralta said his identity as “a young Latino” has helped him referee zoning conflicts in the Hemphill Corridor.
“I think the biggest difference between my opponent and I is she is seeing things at a state and federal level because she was running for state,” Peralta said of Elizabeth Beck, who ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for Texas House of Representatives District 97, “but I think when you try to look at stuff so high up there, you start forgetting about those relationships that are really important that we as a city at the local level need to be focusing on.”
Peralta brought up representation after Fort Worth City Council ignored calls to create an independent redistricting committee. Both Peralta and Beck were in favor of creating such a committee.
Beck said if elected councilwoman, she’d “keep that principle of who picks whom in mind, not only when drawing the current lines but adding the two new seats.”
Beck thought infrastructure was, if not the biggest, the most immediate issue facing District 9. She said water main breaks during the February freeze caused sinkholes, some so big they swallowed SUVs in Near Southside.
When asked if she’d address the problem by voting for a city budget that allocated more funding for public works, Beck said, “Before we get to more funding, we need a comprehensive review of where we are and we need to prioritize what needs to be replaced.”
She said the master’s degree she earned in city and regional planning equips her to do that.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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