FORT WORTH, Texas — The last election in Fort Worth featured the most candidates in the city's history, including a slate of 14 people running for mayor.
Based on the sheer numbers, the local political cognoscenti predicted a few election runoffs. They were correct.
The June 5 runoff elections are headlined by the mayoral race, which includes top vote-getter Deborah Peoples, who announced last week she was stepping down from her position as the Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair, and Mattie Parker, former chief of staff to the City Council and current mayor, Betsy Price, who is a Republican.
Parker is supported by the so-called Fort Worth “establishment,” which includes billionaire kingmakers Edward, Lee, Sid, and Robert Bass and the two most recent mayors.
Though mayoral elections are, in theory, nonpartisan, the May 1 race looks to be split along traditional right-left lines. In Fort Worth, like many other cities across the country, high turnout usually favors Democrats. In big elections, such as presidential or the recent showdown between Sen. Ted Cruz and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Fort Worth tends to vote for the Democrat.
Though the county as a whole has usually gone Republican — until voters chose both O’Rourke and President Joe Biden — Mitt Romney is the only Republican presidential candidate to take Fort Worth since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
One political consultant, who is involved in an active campaign and asked that her name not be included in this story, said the vast number of conservative candidates in the May 1 split the Republican vote. Parker, she believes, will benefit most from the runoff format. The best shot for Peoples to win, she said, was to avoid the runoff altogether.
“Turnout will be key for Peoples,” the consultant said. “Parker is going to get all of [former candidate and City Councilman] Brian Byrd’s supporters and the right-wing evangelicals who supported [Steve] Penate. Peoples will almost certainly gain [former candidate and City Councilwoman] Ann Zadeh’s voters, but I don’t know if that will be enough.
“Peoples is also counting young voters,” she continued. “She did a miraculous job getting them to the polls on May 1, but getting young people to vote twice in the span of two months is a pretty tall order.”
Aside from the huge number of candidates who filled to run for office, this election cycle presented a unique opportunity for voters to fill the City Council with more newly elected members than incumbents. However, after sitting Councilmembers Gyna Bivens (District 5, Carlos Flores (District 2), and Cary Moon (District 4) comfortably won their respective reelection bids, that won’t be the case.
There are still two current Councilmembers fighting for their seats. Jungus Jordan, who has represented District 6 since 2005, will face community organizer and professor Jared Williams. Jordan’s campaign recently came under fire after a Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association circulated a flyer endorsing him, which left off one prominent candidate and included four candidates from past elections who were not running.
District 7, the area that includes the Cultural District, is another hotly contested race. Leonard Firestone, co-founder of TX Whiskey, has the endorsement of Mayor Price and outgoing Councilman Dennis Shingleton. Zeb Pent, however, was the top vote-getter in the May 1 election. Pent is best known for taking a stance against the Fort Worth school board for a bathroom policy that allowed students to use the bathroom of their self-identified gender. Pent, whose Twitter account is filled with claims of stolen 2020 elections and other right-wing conspiracies, has become a controversial figure in local politics. Former Council candidate Lee Henderson, who came in third place during the May 1 election, said he is now fully supportive of Firestone.
“Zeb Pent is unquestionably dangerous to our city,” said Henderson in an open letter he posted to social media. “His lack of Fort Worth values makes him the wrong choice in this race and for public office altogether.”
District 8’s race was the closest of any. Incumbent Kelly Allen Gray narrowly topped community leader Christopher Nettles by a margin of fewer than 3% (46% to 43.5%).
District 9’s race was one of the more intriguing of the cycle. The fireworks started when candidate Darien George dropped out of the race after unleashing a profanity-laden tirade against another candidate who asked him to drop out amid allegations of abuse by his ex-wife. Soon after that, candidate Erik Richerson was disqualified from the election because of a past felony charge. He was later reinstated but told Spectrum News 1 that his campaign had suffered damage from the uncertainty.
The runoff appears to be relatively tame, as attorney and military veteran Elizabeth Beck squares off against active Texas Army National Guard member Fernando Peralta. Beck, fresh off an unsuccessful run for the Texas House, carried over a considerable war chest from that race. She garnered 43% of the vote versus Peralta’s 12.5%.
District 9 will also decide its school board representative on June 5. Roxanne Martinez and Cade Lovelace are the two candidates. The seat was vacated by Ashley Paz, who surprised many observers by choosing not to seek reelection.
Early voting begins May 24 and runs through June 1.