Fort Worth progressives look to make gains in longtime conservative stronghold in spring races

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Fort Worth’s Tarrant County has been a GOP stronghold for a while, but Team Blue was encouraged by Texas Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke’s narrow victory there last year, and by wins in a local state Senate and county commission race. They’re hoping to give Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, a Republican who bragged last year that “Fort Worth is one of the largest conservatively led cities around,” a serious fight this year as she seeks a fifth two-year term as head of America’s 15th-largest city.

Price won her last campaign two years ago 70-30 against a political newcomer, and she’s likely the favorite in the May 4 nonpartisan contest. (Should no one win a majority then, there would be a June runoff.) However, Democrats are fielding their first credible candidate in a while, with Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples, a former AT&T vice president, kicking off her bid on Tuesday.

In her announcement, Peoples hit Price for the state of the local police. She emphasized how, the day she announced, five officers were fired for their role in the July death of a man in police custody, saying that “Right now there is this sense of distrust between part of the population and the police department.”

Peoples also went after the mayor for only belatedly calling for an audit of a development project in Fort Worth called Panther Island that has attracted plenty of scrutiny recently. Early last year, Price asked voters to approve a $250 million bond for the $1.16 billion project, which is overdue, over budget, and underfunded. The bond passed, but in October, Price called for Panther Island to be scaled back and for an audit to make sure it was being properly managed. Peoples argued that Price had only called for the audit once people began paying attention to all the problems, declaring, “That is not transparent.”

Peoples’ campaign also comes at a time when a progressive group called United Fort Worth, which grew out of the city council’s refusal in 2017 to join other Texas cities in a lawsuit opposing the GOP state government's ban on sanctuary cities, has been gaining prominence. United Fort Worth has been protesting at council meetings and arguing that Price and other local officials haven’t done enough to condemn hate speech aimed at immigrants; it has also been loudly speaking out against city policies it sees as hurting people of color and low-income residents. The group is also running city council candidates this May.

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