District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said she’s worked hard to rectify zoning laws that she believes have caused South and Southeast Fort Worth to fall behind the rest of the city when it comes to amenities.

Gray made the case for another term in office during the Historic Southside Neighborhood Association’s virtual forum Saturday while her opponent, Chris Nettles, argued that it’s time for a leadership change.

During the hourlong forum, the two offered competing visions for developing District 8.

Since Sycamore Golf Course closed because of flooding, a handful of residents and the city’s parks and recreation department developed a master plan to make it a larger park. Construction should begin in August and be completed in mid-2022, Gray said.

Nettles said the project has taken too long and should have included ideas, such as a water park, that would bring residents from other districts to District 8. He raised the same concern about the planned development of urban villages at the intersections of Evans and Rosedale and Riverside and Berry.

Nettles then added the city should take over East Lancaster, which is owned by the state, so it can redevelop it while Gray said that it would cost tens of millions of dollars for the city to do that.

Gray used West Seventh as a cautionary tale, reminding forum attendees that the reason there are $300,000 condominiums there now is because a tornado destroyed much of what was there in 2000.

“Yes, I want to make sure we have a lot of the things other districts have, but they also come with a price, and I’m not willing to gentrify my community because someone wants a bowling alley, a skate park or a bar. I’m not willing to do it. Not today. Not two years from now,” said Gray, who has served on City Council since 2012.

The two also proposed different ways to address health inequities and residents’ distrust of the police in District 8. In 2019, UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists found that the 76104 ZIP code in District 8 had the lowest life expectancy in the state. It is 66.7 years there compared to the overall life expectancy in Texas of 78.5 years. Also in 2019, Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home in District 8 after her neighbor asked for a wellness check. 

Gray promoted pop-up clinics happening in June and said she was in talks with the Sid Richardson Foundation and the Tarrant Area Food Bank to create a grocery store similar to Jubilee Market in Waco. She thought that was better than trying to attract one to relocate because getting Walmart to open in District 8 “took an act of Congress.” Also, she said, District 8 has good grocery stores, but they just aren’t name-brand grocery stores.

“Is it Kroger? No, it is not. Is it Tom Thumb? No, it is not. But is it available? Yes it is, so I think we need to make that distinction,” she said.

Nettles vowed on Day 1 in office to contact all major grocery stores in Fort Worth and use a petition as well as traffic and revenue data from the Walmart to show them the area can support another grocery store. 

“It is the heartbeat of the district,” Nettles said of ZIP code 76104, “and for it to be the lowest life expectancy in all of Texas we cannot sit back and not do anything.”

Gray said the police department has experienced attrition from retirements and is trying to hire more officers of color by eliminating arbitrary requirements that barred them from applying. She said the Crime Control and Prevention District increased the frequency of giving organizations grants from once to twice a year.

Nettles advocated for giving a bigger platform to organizations that already have the trust of District 8 residents, such as My Brother’s Keeper and the Brotherhood.

The Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association endorsed Gray and donated $10,000 to her campaign on Feb. 2. United Fort Worth endorsed Nettles.

In general, Gray tried to temper expectations on progress in District 8.

“City government, state government, municipal government is a Navy ship. It is not a speed boat, and the deal is you have to keep working it,” she said.

Nettles, however, wanted people to believe more progress is possible.

“If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always got,” he said.

Early voting started Monday and goes until June 1. Election Day for the runoff is June 5. 

Five candidates ran for District 8 on May 1. Nettles came out on top with 45.85% of the vote while Gray was second with 43.53%.

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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