The city is growing rapidly, having seen an increase in population of about 22 percent since 2010. As with all rapidly growing cities, Fort Worth faces questions about its priorities.
Candidates drew for their ballot place on Monday and will be listed in the following order: Mike Haynes, Steve Penate, Cedric Kanyinda, Chris Rector, Mattie Parker, Brian Byrd, Ann Zadeh, Daniel Caldwell, Mylene George, and Deborah Peoples.
Brian Byrd, who is a physician and currently a council member for District 3 hopes to lead the city through the challenges it will continue to face.
“As mayor, I will be inheriting a much larger city that will still be in a pandemic,” Byrd told The Texan. “Great cities don’t just happen; we have to steward and take care of them.”
He believes his experience as a business owner and on the city council demonstrates his ability to lead. He spearheaded the Las Vegas Trail initiative to revitalize a tough area of Fort Worth.
“We worked with the private sector to get a community center, recruited a charter school to provide more education options, and saw a significant drop in crime before [COVID-19] hit,” Byrd explained.
Byrd supported the continuation of the Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD), which passed last summer. “We had to make sure it happened in the middle of the defund the police movement last summer,” Byrd said of the effort.
He appreciates the changes retired Chief Ed Kraus made to the police department, and he believes new Chief Neil Noakes will be a great leader. “He is humble and a servant leader. He has also spent a lot of time in minority communities for outreach.”
He believes retiring Mayor Betsy Price has done a great job with many items, like blue zones, Steer Fort Worth, and the redistricting tax force. “She’s also put a lot of downward pressure on property taxes. Fort Worth was in great shape when we were hit with the [COVID-19] pandemic,” Byrd remarked.
Byrd believes Fort Worth has a healthy debt level, less than 20 percent of the general revenue, and said an appropriate purpose for cities to take on debt is to improve infrastructure, especially repairs. “It is often cheaper to repair early than wait several years,” he said.
Concerning the Panther Island project, Byrd told The Texan that “We need to figure out how to complete the project and that will require coordination between all the partners.”
Byrd believes that Fort Worth needs to make some changes to its economic development model. “We need to look more at starting companies here rather than just bringing companies here. We should encourage entrepreneurs to take the right kinds of risks.”
Deborah Peoples, who ran against Price in 2019, believes that serving as mayor “has the potential to be the most rewarding position.” She sees that Fort Worth is suffering from “growing pains” and needs to address issues like affordable housing, including apartments and townhomes; infrastructure and transportation needs; and equitable distribution of opportunities across the city.
“We are at a critical time in Fort Worth — we have decisions to make that will impact us for years down the road,” Peoples told The Texan.
“I believe in the police and want good policing,” Peoples said, but she has concerns about how the 10-year extension of the CCPD and how its budget is being spent.
“I believe the CCPD money should go toward intervention and prevention programs to minimize crimes,” Peoples added. She is also concerned about the diversity of the police department.
Regarding Panther Island, Peoples said, “I prefer to believe it has the potential to be good if it is managed right,” adding that it could bring jobs and housing options, and help with flooding issues.
She believes that some parts of Fort Worth have suffered from benign neglect over the last several years. “I will be mayor for all the people,” Peoples emphasized, adding that she is a good listener who is not afraid of criticism or to admit when she is wrong.
When asked if her position as chair of the Tarrant County Democrat Party Chair poses any concerns in a non-partisan municipal election, Peoples offered that she is able to get along with people across the spectrum and find common goals. “I don’t want anyone to get caught up on labels.”
Peoples also pointed out that Fort Worth has an issue with homelessness that it needs to work on. “We can’t ignore the problem,” she said.
Steve Penate, a local real estate broker and pastor, said “It is the greatest honor of my life that I am able to run for mayor.” He emphasized his commitment to fight for the families of Fort Worth.
Penate, who grew up with a speech impediment and has worked diligently to achieve fluency when speaking, said he’ll bring that kind of determination to work for the “greatest city in America.”
He said he’d like to see Fort Worth take better care of small businesses, lower property taxes, improve schools, work with law enforcement to improve public safety, and fix infrastructure.
Penate said he is committed to lowering taxes so people can afford to live in their desired neighborhood. “As a real estate broker, I have seen how it directly affects families. High property taxes are keeping people from the American dream,” he told The Texan.
As mayor, Penate believes he can exercise influence to create a climate that highlights the schools in Fort Worth. “Great jobs and great neighborhoods help create great schools,” Penate added.
Penate believes that a city can take on debt to support infrastructure, but “debt is never ideal. Large debt stifles freedom.”
He declined to comment specifically on Panther Island, choosing to say that “I commit myself to projects that are fiscally responsible and promote growth in the economy.”
Penate believes that Price has left an “incredible” legacy after leading Fort Worth and “I have a lot to learn from what she’s done. I’m committed to walking into brighter and greater days.”
Chris Rector is a veteran and works in loss prevention. He is not accepting any donations for his campaign because “the position of mayor is a position of public trust for the people.”
Rector is critical of the city’s purchase of a new city hall during a pandemic, the city’s use of tax abatements for businesses and the way those agreements are hidden from the public during negotiations, and the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He advocates denying any additional funding to the Panther Island project until J.D. Granger and Jim Oliver are no longer involved. Granger and Oliver have been part of the management team for the embattled project.
Rector would like to see better public transportation in the city, including more use of rail.
“We are going to try to make a change and make it safe, transparent, and lower property taxes,” Rector told The Texan.
Daniel Caldwell is an attorney who says he brings an “objective outsider’s perspective, yet one that is familiar with establishment politics all across the state.”
Caldwell was elected as a delegate to both the Democratic and the Republican party state conventions in both 2018 and 2020, a fact which he told The Texan demonstrates his “calls for unity more than any other candidate.”
Caldwell believes he can improve race relations in Fort Worth, but recognizes that calls to defund the police are unpopular in the city.
He’d like to see “more police than have higher-paid police, especially since salary is not what keeps recruitment down.”
His perspective on Panther Island is best described as “how can we best salvage this mess?”
The city’s finances can be improved, Caldwell said. “We should reduce expenditures to be able to pay down the debt and then be able to lower the tax rate. Although the budget may have been balanced, there is still more improvement to be made.”
Mylene George plans to “bring a fresh outlook on how to approach the future of our city. Mayor Price led with initiatives entering her mayoral career and I hope to follow suit in building opportunities to make Fort Worth a better place for all residents,” she explained to The Texan.
Because of continuing concerns about crime and racial tensions in the city, George would “follow a similar path as Camden, New Jersey in community-focused policing we can get closer to relieving the pressures of racial tensions. One way to do so is to repurpose a portion of the police resources to assist in the minority communities.”
Having no desire to further burden property owners with higher taxes, George says she would be mindful in eliminating city debt. “The property tax rate has climbed high enough to cause Fort Worth homeowners to question whether or not they can comfortably afford the increasing rate. This is counterproductive to us wanting to make and keep Fort Worth home to current residents and visitors.”
George recognizes the issues related to Panther Island and believes it should be re-evaluated. “Entertaining the possibility of allocating the funds to enhance parts of the city that already exist instead of starting from scratch.”
Haynes, Kanyinda, Parker, and Zadeh did not respond to The Texan’s request for an interview.