After advancing out of the crowded mayoral field, Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples are differentiating themselves on more than just political backgrounds, including at a forum Wednesday where they were divided on transit, wages and the best way to grow business.
Parker, a lawyer who spent five years as chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price and is now a nonprofit executive, and Peoples, a retired AT&T vice president and outgoing Tarrant County Democratic Party chair, spared in a forum that focused on Fort Worth’s workforce and business climate. While the candidates appear to agree on unifying the city and moving away from partisan politics, the forum, hosted by the Star-Telegram and the city’s three chambers, was one of the first times the pair contrasted clearly on policies.
One of the clearest differences was on how the city should improve mobility. The AllianceTexas corridor has become a mecca for jobs, but arterial streets in the far north are often clogged. Meanwhile, residents inside Loop 820, particularly in east Fort Worth, have a hard time getting to work on a bus system that has been called “bare bones.”
Peoples took an aggressive stance on transit, saying the city should invest in light rail and other multi-model forms of mobility to help residents get to jobs.
That’s not the first time a light rail concept has been pitched. In 2019 the City Council heard three options for Trinity Metro’s future: incremental improvements that wouldn’t require additional funding but also wouldn’t catch up to Fort Worth’s growth, a more robust plan that called more more frequent routes and a TEXRail extension, and a “visionary” plan that called for at least 19 bus routes with service at 15 minutes and two light rail lines crossing the city.
The issue with any transit plan the involves the cost, with the most robust plan likely requiring well over $1 billion.
But Peoples said the city should not get caught up in the dollars and instead strive for a robust transit system like other major cities. She suggested looking for federal and state dollars as well as public-private partnerships to fund the expansion.
“These things aren’t easy fixes but you can’t ignore them,” Peoples said. “You have to start working on them now.”
Parker said the city should strive for the “visionary” concept, but she estimated the cost at $2 billion. So she advocated for starting small with incremental changes that would improve access in neighborhoods. Neighborhoods can’t wait decades for a long-term plan, so Trinity Metro should look at “innovative programs,”she said, like the Zipzones. With Zipzones, users pay $3 for a ride share service within a designated area.
One way Fort Worth can tackle mobility is by working with regional partners, Parker said. Rather than looking at transit as a Fort Worth problem, she said it’s a DFW-wide issue.
“I’m driving from here to Plano, I don’t care how many city lines I draw,” she said. ”There’s power and regionalism, look at DFW Airport.”
On a question about whether federal unemployment benefits are an incentive for workers to stay home and what the city should do to help businesses and workers, Parker said the focus should not be on minimum wages but on the education of the workforce. She said she was concerned about women and minority workers who were choosing not to re-enter the workforce, but she shied away from saying companies should improve benefits or pay. Instead she said the city should work with the business community and educational institutions to ensure graduates have the right skills.
“Let’s stop the conversation about minimum wage in this country and let’s focus what it looks like to re-skill people so the labor force is making $20 an hour, $30 an hour,” Parker said.
Peoples said she “absolutely” supports a city minimum wage, which she said should be a livable wage, not a minimum standard. While she didn’t provide a specific amount, she said wages should be tied to the cost of living so workers feel valued.
“The city needs to be out there leading the charge to make sure that we are treating our workers fairly, and that we are giving them opportunities to earn a living wage,” Peoples said. ‘And we need bring great-paying jobs here that will make people want to get up and go to work.”
Equitable business growth
The candidates also differed on whether to focus locally or look outside Fort Worth for growing business.
To improve equity in how the city doles out contracts for work and where developers are enticed to build, Peoples said the city should work more closely with minority and women owned businesses. The city should routinely check in with the Black and Hispanic chambers on what members need to grow in Fort Worth, she said.
“We have to listen to the people in this city to make these things work,” she said.
Parker said she thought city leaders should look at other cities for best practices when it comes to improving equitable contracting. Fort Worth should craft policies based on what has worked elsewhere.
“I do disagree with you, we have to look outside of what other cities are doing successfully,” she said.
To grow business generally, Peoples said the city and chambers should look at boosting young entrepreneurs, particularly Black, Hispanic and women business owners. Often these folks leave Fort Worth, she said, so the city should look at retaining startups.
City and business leaders need to “go on a road show” to places Parker said were less business friendly like Portland, Seattle and Detroit, Parker said.
“We need to sell the vision and mission of Fort Worth,” Parker said.