After a decade as Fort Worth mayor, Betsy Price says she won’t seek reelection
See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Luke Ranker here.
Betsy Price, the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth’s history, will not seek another term after a decade in office.
Price made the announcement that she wouldn’t run for an unprecedented sixth term Tuesday at City Hall, ending speculation about whether her time leading the city would continue and creating the most contested race for mayor since she ran in 2011. Campaign filing opens Jan. 13.
“You know, serving as mayor has been one of the greatest joys of my life, next to having my children and my grandchildren. It’s been amazing,” Price, slightly choked up, said as she announced she would step aside.
Price, 71, did not immediately say what her future political aspirations might hold, but noted she still has “that Energizer Bunny energy and passion.” She said in the short term she’ll focus on spending time with her family. She also declined to make an endorsement in the May election.
Her decade in office has seen Fort Worth grow at a sharp pace.
When she took the helm in 2011, the city of a little more than 700,000 was still recovering from the Great Recession. She leaves the mayor’s office after an economic boom that’s brought the population to more than 900,000. During her time the city shored up its finances, including a troubled pension plan, invested in neighborhoods and lowered the tax rate by 12 cents, she boasted. Most Fort Worth homeowners have still paid more in property taxes — the average home value increased 73% to $209,000 since 2011.
“Fort Worth is now a modern, innovative, internationally renowned city, and we did it while we still tried to stay true to Fort Worth’s roots,” she said.
She served as Tarrant County tax assessor for 10 years before running in 2011 and faced little opposition in following elections. In 2019 she bested Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples by 14 points in an election that saw all nine council members reelected. Turnout in Tarrant County was about 9%.
Councilman Jungus Jordan, who has been on the council the longest, watched Price’s speech from the back of the council chamber. Councilmen Dennis Shingleton, Carlos Flores and Cary Moon were also seen at the event.
“I hate to see Betsy go,” Jordan said. “She’s been a great face for our city, even nationally.”
There are a number of potential mayoral candidates.
Tarrant County Democratic Chairwoman Deborah Peoples, 68, was Price’s strongest opponent in 2019. She has said for months she’ll make another bid, but hedged her commitment in a message to the Star-Telegram last week, saying she wanted to meet with her family and campaign team.
Following Price’s announcement Tuesday, Peoples said she would run.
Rumors that lawyer Dee Kelly Jr., 60, would enter the race if Price didn’t run have circulated since late last year. Kelly Tuesday said he wouldn’t make a formal announcement until later in the week.
“I feel very strongly Betsy has earned the day,” he said.
A replacement for Price may be found among the city council members.
“I’m in if she doesn’t run,” Council Brian Byrd, who represents the southwest side District 3, said in a message Saturday. Byrd did not attend Price’s announcement, but in a statement he called her an “outstanding” leader.
District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, 54, wrote in a message last week that she was “seriously considering” the mayor’s race.
City Manager David Cooke and his staff lead day-to-day the business of the city, but Price has taken an active role in promoting Fort Worth and shaping policy.
Supporting education and early childhood development were high among her priorities.
In 2016 Price launched Read Fort Worth, a partnership with Fort Worth school districts with the goal of getting all third-graders reading at grade level by 2025. She also helped champion Best Place for Kids, a nonprofit focused on early childhood development that encourages businesses to adopt practices that help working families.
Unhappy with the city’s obesity rate, she was among those who championed the Blue Zone project. The international effort promotes healthy lifestyles. Fort Worth was named a Blue Zone city in 2018 after a five-year process, making it the largest city with the designation.
Price, an avid cyclist, also established FIT Fort Worth, a program encouraging physical fitness.
In response to Fort Worth’s low voter turnout, Price in 2011 established SteerFW, a nonpartisan young professionals group aimed at increasing civic engagement. Turnout has remained low — it was about 8% in 2017, down from the roughly the 10% who elected Price in 2011 — but Price said the program has increased interest in civic matters.
Price touted efforts to modernize the city’s transportation, noting the TEXRail passenger train line from downtown to DFW Airport that opened in 2018. The city completed its first active transportation plan during her time and she called for the city to hire a position focused on mobility issues.
“The proof of our progress has been clear,” she said.
Price, a Republican, has enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Trump Administration, including multiple meetings with the president. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson has visited Fort Worth multiple times and touted the city as a success story for public-private partnerships and conservative housing policy.
Still, Price faced significant challenges along the way.
A viral video of Jacqueline Craig’s arrest in 2016 brought national attention to Fort Worth and sparked calls for police reform. She was arrested with her two daughters after she had called police to resolve a dispute with a neighbor. Craig filed an excessive force lawsuit.
A Race and Culture Task Force was formed in response, which presented recommendations related to criminal justice, economic development, transportation and government aimed at improving equity in the city. Price has supported the recommendations and advocated for hiring a diversity and inclusion director and forming a police monitor office under the city manager.
Price’s last term has been her toughest.
Shortly after the election, Cooke fired Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald after the chief was involved in a heated confrontation in Washington, D.C. with the state police union’s president. Fitzgerald later filed a lawsuit over the termination.
October 12, 2019 Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean shot and killed 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home. Dean resigned and faces charges.
The killing sparked weeks of protests, including at City Council meetings where residents called for systemic changes to the police force. The most critical voices charged the council with racism.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, protesters took to the streets in Fort Worth to demand an end to police brutality. Protesters and police clashed May 31 during a march across the West Seventh Street bridge. During the exchange, Police Chief Ed Kraus authorized the use of tear gas on the crowd, later saying he feared for officers’ safety. At a briefing the next day, Price backed the chief’s decision and issued a curfew.
“Like many U.S. cities, we’ve worked through the challenges of the pandemic and civil unrest in the wake of racial tensions. It wasn’t easy, and we didn’t always get it right, but we’ve given it our best, and we’ve done a pretty good job, I will say,” Price said. “I believe that Fort Worth will be a model for other communities on how they should respond and how we should open our eyes and realize our underprivileged communities must be served and they must be heard.”
Last March as the coronavirus reached North Texas, Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley took a less aggressive approach to handling the pandemic than counterparts in Dallas County, opting for a focus on education rather than strict mandates. Price’s office pleaded for residents to don face coverings with a “Y’all wear a mask” campaign that has become ubiquitous on the city’s social media platforms.
Price tested positive for the virus in late October and recovered after receiving an experimental antibody treatment.
A long time cheerleader for the city’s sports tourism business, Price attempted to strike a balance between COVID-19 safety and increasing traffic for beleaguered businesses.
As public health officials called for residents to avoid gatherings and wear masks, Fort Worth played host to a series of sporting events. The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club brought the PGA tour to the city without fans. In July NASCAR fans were allowed at Texas Motor Speedway and for two weeks in December tens of thousands of rodeo fans attended events related to the National Finals Rodeo around Fort Worth.
“No one has handled the pandemic perfectly,” Price said. “Certainly not us, certainly not Tarrant County or our neighboring counties, but I would say we’ve done as well as anybody.”
Price has sought to turn the pandemic into an economic win for the city with Fort Worth Now, a private-sector task force aimed at helping businesses recover from the COVID-19 downturn and attract new businesses. Price has said she believes the pandemic offers Fort Worth a chance to lure companies from more dense urban areas.
“We believe Fort Worth is uniquely positioned to recruit, attract and grow new business in this post-COVID landscape,” Price said in May when she unveiled the task force. “We are poised to be a leader in mobility, innovation, pharmaceuticals, medical innovation, and many, many other industries that will be crucial to the recovery of our economy.”
Asked if navigating the pandemic influenced her decision to not seek another term, she joked that her family wanted her to stop after eight years in office and that the challenge of the last year did not spur her decision.
She embraced her family following her announcement, but then turned back to the crowd of reporters and city employees.
“This is not a funeral,” she joked.