Think Fort Worth is a GOP city? It’s not, and here’s what that means for mayor runoff

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For 10 years, Fort Worth has been faking it.

When Betsy Price was sworn into office in 2011, she was the city’s first openly Republican mayor in 20 years.

Yet simply because Price was a popular leader and from the GOP side, Fort Worth was labeled as conservative and “the only Republican big city.”

Baloney.

Price is the only Republican who has carried Fort Worth in nearly 10 years. She is one of few to carry the city in 30.

Democrats Hillary Clinton (52%) and Joe Biden (56%) carried the Fort Worth presidential vote. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott lost the city, to lesser-known Democrats MJ Hegar (54%) and Lupe Valdez (52%).

On paper, Fort Worth is a Democratic city by about 54%-46%, often outvoted by its staunchly Republican suburbs.

But more Republicans vote in off-year elections.

That’s why former U.S. and Texas House Republican staffer Mattie Parker and eight-year county Democratic Party chair Deborah Peoples have mostly avoided party politics going into their June 5 mayoral runoff.

In 1996, former Gov. Ann Richards and U.S. Rep. Jim Wright welcomed President Bill Clinton to Sundance Square.
In 1996, former Gov. Ann Richards and U.S. Rep. Jim Wright welcomed President Bill Clinton to Sundance Square.

As the flagbearer to hold the mayor’s seat in one of the 13 largest cities in America, Parker could have every Republican endorsement if she asked, from Abbott probably even to former President Donald Trump.

But no. Instead, Parker has told Republican clubs flatly that she is running a “nonpartisan, policy-focused campaign by intention.”

In an in-depth interview with WFAA/Channel 8, Parker said: “It’s no secret” that she’s a Republican, but “I also know what it takes to govern the city and being partisan is not the answer.”

In 1986, Deborah Peoples took part in a Celebrity Stroll with Victor Wise benefiting the Sojourner Truth Players theater group.
In 1986, Deborah Peoples took part in a Celebrity Stroll with Victor Wise benefiting the Sojourner Truth Players theater group.

Meanwhile, Peoples has promoted endorsements from U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. But unlike in her 2019 campaign, there have been no appearances by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Housing Secretary Julián Castro.

“I think Fort Worth is growing and changing so rapidly it’s hard to be so simply defined” as Republican or Democrat, she said in a written statement. “I know this: Fort Worth has had great success in the past by electing a mayor from the business world, and we can’t risk breaking with that successful pattern now.”

There’s a reason both candidates are being so darn careful to downplay party politics.

“Fort Worth has a no-nonsense, independent streak,” said Brian Mayes, the Price and Parker campaign consultant from Dallas-based Mayes Media Group.

Fort Worth mayoral candidate Mattie Parker, left, talks to Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price while waiting for election results on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Parker will face Deborah Peoples in a June runoff election for mayor.
Fort Worth mayoral candidate Mattie Parker, left, talks to Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price while waiting for election results on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Parker will face Deborah Peoples in a June runoff election for mayor.

City voters “appear to prefer results and trusted leadership over partisanship and petty political games,” he said.

The last two mayors before Price were Democrats with a split 4-4 council. That means before Price, the city was Democrat-run for 15 years.

“I think it is unfortunate that the mayor’s race appears to have become as partisan as it has,” former Mayor Kenneth Barr wrote by email.

Former mayors Mike Moncrief, left, and Kenneth Barr at the 2019 Exchange Club Goodfellows luncheon.
Former mayors Mike Moncrief, left, and Kenneth Barr at the 2019 Exchange Club Goodfellows luncheon.

When he was mayor from 1996 to 2003, he wrote, “political affiliation wasn’t important.

“The old saying is that there is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole.”

Democratic strategist Matt Angle of the Washington D.C.-based Lone Star Project grew up in Haltom City. But a brother-in-law, Joel Burns, served seven years on the Fort Worth council.

Fort Worth votes Democratic and “it’s not even close,” Angle wrote by email.

City voters even favored former council member Wendy Davis in her 2014 landslide loss to Abbott. Then they favored Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, over Abbott in 2018.

O”Rourke had crossover appeal here because defense industry workers knew him from his days on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. But in his watershed 2018 race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, he carried a hefty 57% of the city vote.

Angle wrote he was surprised to see Parker appeal to the “wingnut Trump Republicans.”

(She has spoken to both Democratic and Republican groups, but appeared last week at an GOP event organized by a former Republican candidate aligned with the QAnon conspiracy fantasy.)

It would be odd if Fort Worth elects another mayor “who is clearly comfortable within the Trump Party,” Angle wrote.

That’s not the kind of Washington party talk we’ve heard from either side in this campaign.

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