Rick Herring and Jeanette Martinez are headed to a June 10 runoff after none of the five candidates in District 11 could secure a majority of the vote in the May 6 election.

Phyllis Allen, who is president of the United Riverside Neighborhood Association and consults for Herring’s campaign, wants her Fort Worth City Council representative to be committed to the job and responsive to her neighborhood.

“I think we have an opportunity to make District 11 be a kind of a poster child for what good governance should look like,” Allen said. 

But not everyone in her United Riverside neighborhood shares her enthusiasm, and in a race separated by double digit votes, who shows up in June could be the deciding factor. Voter turnout was 5% in her neighborhood, which is lower than the rest of the city, according to an analysis by the Fort Worth Report. 

Overall only 4,460 of the 62,817 registered voters in District 11 cast votes. The 7% turnout in the district was far lower than that of District 10, the other newly created district in north Fort Worth, where 10.5% of registered voters cast a ballot. 

Turnout in United Riverside was lower compared to other neighborhoods in District 11, that isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing, Allen said. 

Peter Martínez, a history professor at Tarrant County College, previously told the Report that because past City Council maps disenfranchised Hispanic voters, many in District 11 might not cast a ballot because they don’t think their vote matters. 

“I think it’s really hard to change that mentality over time, knowing that you’ve been defeated, so to speak, by maps being drawn that advantage others and not yourself,” Peter Martínez previously said.

Jeanette Martinez earned 36% of the vote on May 6, compared with Herring’s 34%, a margin of 66 votes. If those who previously voted for the other Hispanic candidates in the race go to the polls in June, Peter Martínez said, it could be a decisive victory for Jeanette Martinez.

“By canceling out the multiple Hispanic candidates, I think you almost assure yourself… of winning the next time once those other votes come to you,” he said.

Oakhurst, Meadowbrook split support between runoff candidates

The largest voter turnouts came from two precincts: one in the Oakhurst neighborhood, and one in Central Meadowbrook. 

Oakhurst residents overwhelmingly voted for Herring. There, he received 212 votes compared with Martinez’s 84. Herring is a former Oakhurst neighborhood association president, and is the current neighborhood association president in Carter Riverside, whose residents also favored him over Martinez on Election Day. 

In Central Meadowbrook, the vote difference between Herring and Jeanette Martinez was slimmer. Martinez secured 142 votes, while Herring got 135 votes. 

A map of the newly created District 11. (Map courtesy of the City of Fort Worth)

Both Oakhurst and Central Meadowbrook are home to some of the most active neighborhood associations in District 11, which includes neighborhoods in south Fort Worth and extends west over Interstate 35W to include the majority-Hispanic neighborhoods of Rosemont and Worth Heights. Herring said he is not surprised that neighborhoods with active associations had higher rates of voter turnout compared with the rest of the district. 

“I was very gratified by all the support I received there,” Herring said. “I do think those voters will go back to the polls. We have some work to do in that area, but I think that I can be successful in bringing a lot of those voters into my camp.” 

Jeanette Martinez’ advantage on Election Night came largely from smaller precincts. She received more votes than Herring in 31 of the 75 precincts in District 11, while Herring received more votes in 17 precincts. 

Jeanette Martinez spoke with voters who were excited to get the opportunity to cast a vote for a Latina candidate, she said. 

“There was that sense of pride of a Latino/Latina running for the seat and wanting to support that,” she said. 

Craig Murphy, who consults on Jeanette Martinez’s campaign, said she has a broad base of support across racial demographics. While she has done well with Hispanic residents, he said, that’s also true of other races.

“This district was created to be a Hispanic district but some politically active Hispanic areas were moved or not included so what it ended up as is a strongly Democrat district with a narrow non-white majority,” Murphy wrote in an email.

More important, he said, are political divides among candidates. Murphy said data collected by Jeanette Martinez’s campaign shows she was very popular among residents who voted Democrat in state elections.

Runoff continues Fort Worth Hispanic history

District 11 candidates said they anticipated a runoff from the start of the race — and those predictions came true on Election Night. With three of the five candidates being Hispanic, multiple candidates said they expected the Hispanic vote to be split.

Peter Martínez said the runoff in District 11 is similar to other races that seated Hispanic residents in local government. He pointed to the 1977 City Council race that led to Louis Zapata being elected as the first Hispanic council member. Eight people ran in that race, more than any other district that year, and four were Hispanic. 

“In that original election, the highest voter turnout (for a candidate) was 23%,” he said.

That year was the first that Fort Worth elected single member district council members, which opened the door for greater racial diversity on the council. Peter Martínez said that sort of new opportunity — like the new opportunity presented by District 11 — contributed to the large field of candidates.

Tarrant County elections office does not collect race demographic data on voters, making it difficult to determine how many Hispanic voters showed up at the polls this year. But a look at the precinct results showed that in areas where Herring and Jeanette Martinez tied, the other Hispanic candidates in the race picked up more votes. 

Maldando-Wilson, in particular, received nearly as many votes as Herring near the Eastern Hills neighborhood, netting 77 votes to Herring’s 79.  

Low turnout, low fundraising 

Ricardo Avitia, another District 11 candidate, referenced the low voter turnout in a concession post on Facebook May 8. 

“We couldn’t be happier that 180 voters saw and understood our values,” Avitia wrote. “The number of votes we received are not reflective of our groundwork nor the number of supporters we have in our mission. But more reflective of the lack of funds available for campaigning in 2023.”

Despite having the most candidates running for the seat, District 11 candidates received far less money in their campaigns compared to other districts’ candidates. For instance, District 3 council member Michael Crain, who ran uncontested, raised more money than all five of the District 11 candidates combined. 

District 11 is made up of neighborhoods that have been long-neglected by elected officials, which creates long-standing apathy toward the democratic process, Herring said. That’s something his campaign is looking to combat going into the runoff election. 

“My goal is just to get the citizens engaged,” Herring said. “However that may be — whether it’s through athletic events, whether it’s through family oriented events, or whatever, and let them know that, ‘Yes, I’m here. I care about listening to you and to your concerns. And we want you involved and engaged.’” 

Jeanette Martinez plans to expand her outreach to voters ahead of the June runoff election. 

“Just a more aggressive grassroots approach to try to get the vote out,” Jeanette Martinez said. 

Runoff result hinges on who shows up

United Riverside’s residents are a diverse mix of races and ages, Allen said. The demographics reflect the rest of District 11. The historically Black neighborhood has become increasingly Hispanic over the years. 

Now, a mix of races, ethnicities and ages make up the neighborhood, which is west of I-35W, in between Texas 121 and Interstate 30. 

“We’re having to re-learn and re-identify who we are,” Allen said. “It’s not always the easiest thing in the world to do, to watch change. Change is not always an easy thing and United Riverside is definitely experiencing change. So we’re having to learn how to deal with that.”

Want to learn more about candidates ahead of the runoff?

The Fort Worth Report gathered candidate surveys ahead of the May 6 election to help inform voters where each candidate stands on various issues. You can see Rick Herring’s candidate survey here, and Jeanette Martinez’s candidate survey here.

However, in order to help shape the district, and by extension the city, voters have to show up to the polls.

“Historically, I’ve seen runoff numbers come up to about 70-75% of the Election Day turnout,” Peter Martínez said. 

Murphy said it can be daunting for voters to see five candidates on a ballot, and lead to them staying home instead of voting. 

“But when it becomes a choice between two, more people often vote because the decision is clear,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include information about Phyllis Allen’s association with the Herring Campaign,  and to include comment from a consultant with the Martinez Campaign.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...

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Emily WolfGovernment Accountability Reporter

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...