Who's Next? Meet Four Candidates Running for Fort Worth Mayor

February 2,2021


See full Fort Worth Magazine article by Scott Nishimura here.

The Fort Worth mayoral seat will open for the first time in 10 years in May, and the field is rapidly building.

Confirmed candidates include City Council members Brian Byrd and Ann Zadeh; Deborah Peoples, chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party; and Mattie Parker, Mayor Betsy Price’s former chief of staff and longtime legislative staffer, as of press date Jan. 15.

Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly, Jr., who had been widely expected to seek the mayor’s seat if Price didn’t run, announced he would not run, opening the race up. Businessman Leonard Firestone, who told Fort Worth Magazine in early January he would seek the District 7 seat of retiring Councilman Dennis Shingleton, had been speculated to be a potential candidate for mayor. But Firestone said at midmonth he decided not to seek any seat.

Two other candidates have filed paperwork with the city to run: Mike Haynes and Chris Rector. A third, Joyce Mitchell, had filed the paperwork to disclose a treasurer. The field of prospective candidates might be narrowing. Tim Carter, the longtime Fort Worth banker and a rumored candidate for mayor, said Jan. 18 he would not run. Instead, he endorsed Parker.

The candidacies and Shingleton’s retirement mean changes in at least three council seats: Byrd’s District 3, where District Director Michael Crain has filed to run; District 7; and District 9, where neighborhood leader Fernando Peralta Barrios has filed to run, and a second prospective candidate filed a treasurer’s disclosure.

The new mayor and council will face a big agenda: helping businesses get back on their feet amid COVID-19, budget fallout from a decline in revenues, and creating an environment that encourages corporate relocation and retains talent. Equity is an umbrella that covers education, infrastructure, and public safety.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes,” Shingleton said.

Brian Byrd has been knocking on doors in his West Side City Council district since the summer, asking constituents what they want, shooting masked selfies with them, and recording the answers on his Facebook page. “I’m one of those weird people who loves door-knocking,” Byrd says. “They fill me in. They want to talk.” This most recent election cycle, Byrd started knocking on doors in August, which he says was a prelude to launching a mayoral campaign he would run, if Mayor Betsy Price decided against seeking reelection.

Fundamentals “I just love being on city council. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life. I want to continue to maintain that camaraderie on the council. Efficient government: Our government doesn’t have a competitor, so it’s incumbent on officials to put downward pressure on tax rates.”

Levering his entrepreneurial background: Byrd points to the nascent growth of business incubators and accelerators in Fort Worth as a tool elected officials can lever to encourage startups. “We need an encouraging climate. I want our culture to encourage people to take risks. The mayor can be out front, visiting startups, talking about the value of taking risks. I’ve started a number of businesses and been successful and been able to sell. I know what it’s like.”

The safe city “Four years ago, I heard the refrain of ‘please lower my property taxes.’ But [today], I hear ‘Brian, please keep us safe.’ We’ve had the most number of homicides since 1994, and they’re scared. I believe in neighborhood policing. I also admire that our current chief is looking for ways to get things done. Expanding [mental health crisis intervention teams, meant to reduce calls to police for mental health-related issues], adding a nonsworn division, better de-escalation training for our officers.”

Inclusion and retention “A lot of kids — African American and Latino — are going off and getting educated and not coming back to Fort Worth. They don’t feel welcome. That is a tremendous resource drain.”

Helping organize, with other business leaders, a mentoring program for business people through The Cole Lab. First cohort of four mentees starts in February. Mentors include Rob Opitz, partner at BKD CPA & Advisors. “A year ago, we put together a team. We decided what the city does not have is a citywide mentoring program for business folks. C-suite level downtown folks are going to be the mentors. Tia Cole and the rest of us recruited four mentees for first class. They’ll have access to network and connections, and training. We want them to be successful and get wealthy and run for office and support our nonprofits.”

Campaigning citywide “We’re going to be a very big hardworking, citywide volunteer and grassroots-led campaign. I will continue to knock doors most days. We have a team of four people on our staff who are paid. We’ll probably be expanding that so the army of volunteers we’ve already signed up — and will keep signing up — are coordinated with. In my city council campaigns, the centerpiece was knocking doors. In the mayoral campaign, knocking doors will be just one piece of about five. Knocking, mail, radio, social media, town hall.” Byrd has hired consultant Mosaic Strategy Partners and its co-founder and strategist Tom Stallings.

Fundraising “We’ve got $500,000 in the bank. Our goal is to raise another $500,000. We have commitments on $250,000 right now. We feel good. I put in some money of my own to prime the pump to allow us to hire the people we need to get to work. If we do this right, the only thing I will be doing is making phone calls and knocking doors and talking to media and going to townhalls.”

Elected: City Council West Side District 3, May 2017

Education: B.B.A., international business, University of Texas at Austin; M.D., University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio.

Entrepreneurship: Grew up in entrepreneurial family; parents, for one, owned a chocolate factory. “They were just serial entrepreneurs.” Set up medical practice; moved into hospice; opened companies in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio. Sold 2013. Still owns multi-physician practice, practices Friday mornings, two or three times per month.

Family and Volunteer: Byrd and wife Stephanie have three children and live in Mira Vista. Board of Tarrant NET ministry. Volunteer executive pastor at Christ Fellowship Church. An area coordinator, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Ministry. Part of a first-response medical team that traveled to Haiti following 2010 quake.

byrd4mayor.org

MATTIE PARKER
When Mattie Parker left her job last year as Mayor Betsy Price’s chief of staff after five years and took a post at the Tarrant To & Through Partnership, connecting high school students with resources aimed at steering them to postsecondary credentials, she says she wasn’t planning on a mayoral campaign months later. “This was not something I anticipated now,” says Parker, who, with husband David, has three children ages 20 and younger. Friends suggested she run for mayor after Price decided against seeking reelection. Then Dee Kelly Jr., widely considered to be a strong shoe-in candidate, announced he would not run. “That was interesting, late,” Parker says.

Rumination “We’re at a really critical juncture for Fort Worth and our community. What’s the future of our city look like? We have young children, and it’s really important we have roots we can be proud of. I really started to mull that over. Started making calls to business leaders, not asking for support but asking for advice. I believe strongly that while I’m the youngest person in this race, I am the most qualified.”

Pillars of her campaign “I’m offering something different and unique. We are the future of Fort Worth. It was time for us to step up and lead and take the torch. There is fear in that. I know, I’m human.

Build a safer city. Public safety. It means different things in different communities.

Build a city for tomorrow. [Push] infrastructure into neighborhoods, using an equity lens.

Build an inclusive city for all of Fort Worth.

Rebuild our economy into an entrepreneurial city. Rebuild after COVID. [Focus on] talent attraction. Fort Worth is a city that can compete in a global economy.

Next-generation city. Educate and groom our future leaders. Every single student in our city must have a high-quality seat [in our schools]. I will advocate for whatever model. There’s no stronger supporter for public education in this race than myself.”

Pushing innovation “Fort Worth’s a great city, but, man, we move slow.”

Advancing creatives Music, arts, food, and other creatives are “comprehensively what make Fort Worth special. The food scene has exploded.”

Investment in family and community As Price’s chief of staff, “I helped start the Best Place for Working Parents and Best Place 4 Kids [initiatives]. This actually helps your bottom line [as an employer]. That has taken off. Other cities are going to adopt our platform.”

Partisanship in the nonpartisan race “You have to be a centrist. You should not be running as a Republican or Democrat. There’s a potential for a lot of outside money coming in. [But]we’ll be friends first, and we’ll be friends after. At the end of the day, David and I have to live here.”

CEO: Tarrant To & Through Partnership and Fort Worth Cradle to Career, April 2020

Career: Chief of staff to Mayor Betsy Price, May 2015 – April 2020; district director and campaign manager, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth; chief of staff, State Rep. Phil King; executive assistant, former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick. Former associate attorney, Harris, Finley & Bogle.

Education: B.A. government, University of Texas; law degree, Texas Wesleyan School of Law

Family: Grew up in Hico. She and David live in Ridglea North, with three children ages 20 and younger. 

Philanthropy: Promotion of adoption and foster care. Board member, ACH Child and Family Services

mattieparkerformayor.com

DEBORAH PEOPLES
Deborah Peoples posted more than 16,000 votes in her unsuccessful 2019 race against Mayor Betsy Price. She’s back for more. “I love the city. I believe it has the potential to be so great,” says Peoples, who lives in the East Side’s White Lake Hills. “It shouldn’t be Dallas-Fort Worth; it should be Fort Worth-Dallas. This is where the action is. I think now is the time for us to shape the way we want the city to grow.”

Small business “Small businesses are the engine that brings uniqueness to cities and make cities great. Our small businesses have been hit extremely hard by COVID. Even before then, we found small businesses and communities of color struggling. I think we have to beef up [information about opportunities]. We can’t put the onus on our citizens to go find the information. We’ve got to make it more available.”

Tax abatement policy “We have given so many tax abatements on big businesses that the burden has fallen on small businesses and homeowners. We’ve got to start right-sizing that.”

Economic development “It’s a sales job. You’ve got to sit down and convince businesses [interested in Fort Worth] there are great places to go. We have tons of land on the East Side. We have to show them those opportunities. If we don’t start bringing these jobs back, you start losing your best and brightest.”

Keeping government accessible “Moving City Hall [out of downtown to the Pier 1 building]. I get the business side of it and the economics. But the perception is you’re moving City Hall further away. It would have been a huge statement to the citizens if we had looked at different areas. Sometimes, we have to take the less comfortable route.”

Transportation “I have family in New York. There are all kinds of ways to get around in New York. In Texas, we drive. But the reality of it is, many people, especially young people, are not opting for car ownership. A lot of them use rideshare options like Uber. I think we have to understand that public transportation is becoming the future. More and more people will buy fewer cars. We’ve got to make transportation options for people.”

Interior city redevelopment “People who live in those communities want development. They want to stay in their communities. They want to be able to get a job in their communities.”

Social justice “Many big cities have been plagued with assaults on social justice. I think we are in the beginning throes of that. We have a chance to shape that discussion, and how it looks, and how we bring people on board. You have to be willing to listen. You have to learn not to be siloed. You have to understand the cause and effect between all these different groups and communities. And when it’s warranted, make changes. Once that happens, you start to build trust.”

Partisanship in nonpartisan city races “These are nonpartisan races, but unfortunately, our nonpartisan races have become politicized.”

Chair: Tarrant County Democratic Party, four terms, since April 2013.

Family and career: Grew up in West Texas; father, military; mother, USO. Moved around as sales and marketing executive, AT&T and related companies, 34 years. Moved back to Texas and eventually retired in Fort Worth, where she once lived decades earlier and worked for the city personnel department. One of her children, Channing, is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker.

Avocation: “I had always been engaged under the table in Democratic politics [while working]. That was my weekend life.” After retiring, ran for Tarrant County party chair. Fourth term up June 2022. Ran for mayor against Betsy Price, 2019, received 16,261 votes to Price’s 21,629. Saw Tarrant County go blue, 2020. “If I win the mayor’s race, I will step down as chair of the party. Four terms as chairman are like 10 dog years.”

Education: Texas Woman’s University, Bachelor of Science, Speech Communication and Rhetoric; MBA

deborahpeoplesformayor.com

ANN ZADEH
Ann Zadeh’s City Council District 9 has a collection of some of the city’s most vibrant urban districts: Near Southside, Oakhurst, West Seventh, part of TCU. She’ll be coming out of that to manage a citywide campaign in the race for mayor. Zadeh is touting her educational background and expertise in city planning, experience on the City Council, “passion I have” [for] Fort Worth, and accessibility. “I believe the last six years have been beyond the district that I serve.” 

Property tax “Everything we do needs to address the imbalance of property tax being heavier on residential than commercial.”

Economic development “I don’t think Fort Worth is at the top of the list for consideration [among] businesses leaving other communities and coming to Texas. We constantly talk about how we’re 13th in the nation [in population] and people think we’re in the 40s. Telling the story of Fort Worth and explaining the characteristics that make it great are characteristics that should attract business here.”

Retaining existing business and talent (Zadeh’s two sons attend college out of state.) “I would like them to consider Fort Worth as a place to come back to. We want young people to stay here.”

Encouraging interior city redevelopment and adaptive reuse “In the core of the city, we have a lot of existing infrastructure that can support adaptive reuse, with a greater return on investments than far-flung suburbs. When you build something far out, you have to build roads that may not be adequate for that development. The core of the city, all of those things already exist. Some of it is aging infrastructure. It’s the more sustainable way to development. If you look at the return on investment, the return on infill development is greater.”

Diversity and inclusion “We definitely have to look at racial equity in our community. I think we have made great strides in the work we have done thus far. I know Fort Worth ISD has done some substantial work in that area.” Zadeh points to the recommendations adopted by the city of Fort Worth’s Race and Culture Task Force. “Governments move incredibly slowly. When you look at the list, a lot of raising the groundwork for things to change. I would just ask for people to move alongside.”

Fundraising for the race “I’ve heard so many things. I’ve heard $300,000, I’ve heard $2 million. It’s disheartening to me it’s about money, certainly in this time of COVID. There are so many competing needs in our community.”

Partisanship in the non-partisan race “What was attracting to me was the nonpartisan nature. Everyone can come together around making the communities we live in the best we can. Safe. Places that have work and have housing. To me, that’s what attractive is the non-partisan nature of it.”  

Elected: 2014, Fort Worth City Council District 9 

Fort Worth: Lived Fort Worth for nearly 30 years. Husband Jim, a Fort Worth lawyer. Two college-age sons. Long active in her Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood, helped revive dormant association. “As a child, my parents taught me the importance of community.”

Service: Served Fort Worth Zoning Commission for six years, appointed by Mayor Mike Moncrief, reappointed by Mayor Betsy Price. Chair, final year. Served Fort Worth Urban Design Commission. Council district includes Near Southside, part of TCU, downtown, Oakhurst, West Seventh corridor. Voice for urban redevelopment and adaptive reuse, with walkability, connectivity. Assisted Steer FW in Better Block initiative. While on council, TCU Overlay adopted to limit growth of “stealth dorms”; Hemphill-Lamar Connector tunnel completed.

Professional: American Institute of Certified Planners certified planner. Master’s, City and Regional Planning, University of Texas at Arlington; BA in Environmental Studies, Policy, and Planning, University of California, Santa Cruz.