Jeanette Martinez will be Fort Worth’s first Hispanic woman to serve on the Fort Worth City Council following a decisive victory Saturday night.
“I’m just very proud and humbled by the level of support that I received,” Martinez said after her victory. “I’m really excited and looking forward to getting started.”
Martinez received 59% of the vote while her competitor, long-time neighborhood advocate Rick Herring, received about 41%, according to unofficial results. Martinez widened her lead by 16% compared to the general election where three other candidates, two of whom were also Hispanic, also vied for the seat.
Martinez’s victory means Fort Worth City Council will now have two Hispanic council members for the first time in the city’s history. Hispanic residents make up more than 30% of the city’s population.
“We ran a clean campaign with integrity and honor,” Herring said in a speech conceding the race to Martinez. “This was a David versus Goliath situation… I will still be here fighting for our neighborhoods.”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Martinez grew up in Fort Worth’s Southside neighborhood. She remembers walking to De Zavala Elementary School every morning and to the Fire Station Community Center every afternoon with her siblings.
After being shaped by her neighborhood, Martinez has used her professional life to give back, she said. She works as an administrator in Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks’ office, where, she said, her favorite part of her job is helping her neighbors connect to resources that help them pay their bills and budget for the future.
“It’s my own way of giving that to the community, just because I have this institutional knowledge of our resources and services,” Martinez previously told the Report.
She campaigned on economic development, public safety, thoughtful zoning decisions and lowering property taxes. She emphasized that communicating effectively with constituents is a key component of governing.
In office, she plans to address some of the top issues concerning voters she said, including bringing a library to the Worth Heights neighborhood, improving commercial corridors and reducing industrial pollution in Echo Heights.
“My approach is to serve all the people and to listen and learn what issues are critical and to speak for the community,” Martinez said. “I think it really resonated with, as you can see, the majority of the voters that came out to cast their ballots.”
Martinez will serve District 11, which was formed during Fort Worth’s 2022 redistricting effort with the intent to create a second Hispanic opportunity district. Over 60% of District 11 residents are Hispanic, a feat achieved by connecting the heavily Hispanic Rosemont and Worth Heights neighborhoods to other heavily Hispanic communities east of Interstate 35.
The resulting district has a variety of challenges, from industrial pollution in a historically Black neighborhood to concerns of gentrification in the majority Hispanic Hemphill corridor. Martinez intends to represent constituents from all backgrounds. Her experiences and identity qualify her to understand the circumstances of her constituents, she said.
She recalls the different struggles she has faced as a first generation college student, a mom, a wife and having immigrant parents who were deported — having to start over when the ground shifted underneath her.
“There’s a lot of immigrant residents here in Fort Worth, but there’s also a lot of generational Latinos that are facing the same struggles that everybody’s facing: African American, Anglo, a growing Asian population,” Martinez previously told the Report. “The experience, the struggles that I went through, I’ll be able to make decisions based on everything that I have.”
Voter turnout remains low in municipal race
Several polling places, like the Worth Heights Community Center, didn’t see much activity on Election Day. For most voters in southeast Fort Worth on Election Day, District 11 was the only race on their ballot.
Voter turnout overall for the runoff was 4%, about 3 percentage points lower than the general election. Low turnout is a persistent problem in municipal elections. District 11 was among the lowest turnout numbers in the general election compared to other city council districts.
“I’m surprised how apathetic people are about local elections,” Jan Buck, who campaigned for Herring, said at his election night party. She struggled to get her eastside neighbors motivated enough to go to the polls for a second time.
Runoff turnout is typically 70-75% of the Election Day turnout, Tarrant County College history professor Peter Martínez said. District 11 dipped further below that trend, with about 57% of the turnout from the general election.
To encourage more voters to get to the polls, Martinez pointed to her grassroots-focused campaign that went door to door in an effort to turn out the vote.
Martinez campaign garners significant institutional support after stop-and-go start
Martinez initially chose not to run for city council after throwing her hat in the ring by appointing a campaign treasurer in June 2022.
When the Report reached out, Martinez indicated she chose not to run for the seat, but later changed her mind and filed again in Feb. 2023 after entrepreneur Cristal Galvan was forced to drop out because of a conflict of interest.
“I just had this sense that I needed to run,” Martinez previously told the Report. “I didn’t think that anybody that had already filed in would be able to represent the entire communities in this new district.”
Since re-filing for the position, Martinez has garnered support from former mayors Betsy Price and Mike Moncrief, council members Carlos Flores and Jared Williams and Opal Lee.
“I am proud to have a broad coalition of support that spans the political spectrum,” Martinez previously told the Report.
Martinez raised about $35,000 in the final campaign finance reporting period, compared to Herring’s $26,000 in contributions.
While on the city council, Martinez will maintain her position as precinct administrator with the county, where she earns an annual salary of about $154,550. Martinez’s detractors said her work with both the city and the county presents a conflict of interest because the city consistently does business with the county.
Herring supporter Cindy Boling, continued to criticize Martinez for her affiliation with Commissioner Brooks and state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth at Herring’s election-night party.
“I want to know who our council person is,” Boling said.
In written responses provided to the Report, Martinez said she was assured by Fort Worth’s city attorney that the relationship would only create a conflict of interest on rare occasions.
“When such a conflict arose, I would be notified with ample time to recuse myself,” Martinez previously told the Report.
Herring said he looks forward to working with Martinez through his role advocating for eastside residents, He has been heavily involved with several improvement projects on the eastside, including in Gateway Park.
Martinez said she understands Herring has a long history of working in his community, and she looks forward to working with him.
“Hopefully I can prove to those supporters that I will be able to represent them, I will be able to address their issues and I can earn their trust,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s first council meeting is on June 22, where she will take her seat on the dais. Her first priority will be meeting with her fellow council members and department heads.
Breaking this barrier is humbling, but her stated goal throughout the campaign is representing all residents equally, she said.
“I’m just that I am honored and humbled and grateful for everybody that helped or supported my campaign in any way,” Martinez said. “I’m looking forward to representing everybody in District 11 and creating a better Fort Worth along the way.”
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