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Meet the candidates in the Fort Worth mayoral runoff: Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples

WFAA sat down with both candidates ahead of the runoff election on June 5.
Credit: WFAA

FORT WORTH, Texas — Inside Texas Politics on Sunday will mainly focus on the Fort Worth mayoral race. 

The race for Fort Worth mayor is down to two women. Either Mattie Parker or Deborah Peoples will replace outgoing Mayor Betsy Price. 

Parker is an attorney, founder of an education nonprofit and the former chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price.

Peoples is the former chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party and a former AT&T vice president who moved to Fort Worth in 1975. 

The election is set for June 5.

WFAA sat down with both candidates in May ahead of the runoff. Hear what they had to say ahead of the runoff.

Mattie Parker

In your view, what are the two biggest challenges facing this city?

I think number one is our economy. Every major city in the United States is really facing that emerging from COVID. Where are our strengths? Where are our weaknesses? And we talked about that a lot in Fort Worth over the last several years. Where are we economically? How do you compete not only across the country, globally, how do you compete with other Texas cities?  

So that’s the number one factor we’ve really got to focus on. I’ve said this before and I mean it, we are positioned for greatness in Fort Worth. We are going to emerge from COVID stronger.  

But we have to take the responsibility really seriously. We need an economy that works for everyone. We really focus on what it means to have a living wage job opportunity, a talent workforce pipeline starting with your students that are in classrooms now and moving through. 

Then secondly, I think is just how do we work together as a city. Every U.S. city is divided right now. We just went through a historic presidential election. I think communities that will be successful find a way to work together across political lines, uniting the community and really focus on what it looks like to have a world class city. 

I think those are the two predominant issues I think we’re facing.

Let’s talk about the second one there. It’s kind of the elephant in the room. Fort Worth for a long time has been the largest Republican led city in this state. Obviously municipal races are non-partisan, but it has voted blue the past few cycles. Does this runoff for mayor represent something bigger do you think? 

You know it may, honestly. But I also think it’s really exciting for me as potentially the youngest mayor that would lead a large city in the country. It is time for my generation to step up and be willing to lead in significant office and take the torch. 

It’s no secret, Jason, I’m a Republican. I’ve worked for Republicans. But if you talk to people that have really worked with me, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they understand what it looks like to lead, regardless of party. And that’s the kind of Mayor I’m going to be. I have support from Democrats, Independents and Republicans. And that is intentional because that’s how you govern at City Hall. 

So, as to whether this is a significant demarcation in the history of Fort Worth politically, I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that Fort Worth has been really blessed by wonderful leaders over the last 20 to 30 years. But now it’s time for that trajectory to continue. But I also know what it takes to govern the city and being partisan is not the answer.

The next big police trial, as you know, is going to be in Fort Worth. Aaron Dean, former police officer in Fort Worth on trial this summer for the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot to death in her own home. If elected, though, how would you manage the fallout? Because that’s going to be one of the first things to happen to the new mayor.

The City of Fort Worth has nothing to do with the process of that trial at this point. It’s in the hands of the DA and the judge. Are they going to sequester the jury? Are they going to ask for a change of venue? How long is the trial going to take? Is it going to be televised? All the things that are going to be open questions. 

The city has a responsibility to make sure the community understands the steps that are going to move forward and what’s likely to happen in this particular case. The second thing I would say is we have to be prepared for folks to be out concerned and protests and all of those things. You don’t do that overnight. That’s going to take a week’s time, excuse me, a month’s time working with different people in Fort Worth. 

I’m worried about Fort Worth residents and how they feel. Folks coming from outside our city to influence the decisions that we make here, it does concern me. And you’ve seen it happen in other parts of the country. And you have to have a mayor that’s prepared to do that and work alongside community.

What would you say to people who might live on the south side who wonder what a young white woman knows about racial problems?

Totally understandable, right? Can’t help the package that I’m in. I think for me, my responsibility is to do a lot of listening, before I take action. They don’t understand my life and I don’t understand theirs. You have a responsibility, especially when you’re a young white woman living on the west side of Fort Worth, to listen more, understand the plight of our community. 

Our Black community has asked for help. They’ve asked for more access and transparency at City Hall. I’ll be the first person to offer that. 

But the rhetoric of what divides us right now is what concerns me. I’ve had plenty of my fair share of understanding what real racism looks like. 

I’ve told this story before, but I grew up in a community that was oftentimes known for the Ku Klux Klan. In my small hometown I didn’t understand what that meant. But I did pretty quickly when I was in high school. And you had moments of real, sort of a different pathway you had to take as a city. 

I think the same thing is happening in Fort Worth right now.

How will you be a mayor for everybody in this city as opposed to just people on the north and west sides?

I think I’ll say a few things and I think it ties back to the other question you had with me as a white woman connecting with the community. Who you put around you, what your table looks like to give you diversity of opinion, matters. It’s something I’ll be really intentional about. 

It’s not just about skin color. It’s also about experience. It’s about language barrier. All the things we know we have in droves, it’s a positive, our diversity is a strength here in Fort Worth, matters. 

I’m not from Fort Worth, Jason. I grew up in a really small town. I grew up on a family farm. I was third generation there. Really simple upbringing. My mom was a single mom for most of high school. A lot of people don’t know this: I was on CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) as a kid.  

So, I have a background that lends itself to be empathetic and understanding. We also adopted our daughter when she was 10. And I understand a whole different world because of that foster care experience. Those are all things that inform me both as a mom, as a leader in this community and will be as Mayor.  

So, when the question becomes, how do you connect with Fort Worth, you must be a mayor for all Fort Worth. I do have diverse support across the city. People I’ve done life with for years. I’ve just chosen not to make it the predominant conversation in my campaign, to put people out there because I needed people to know who my supporters were. It’s more grassroots than that and less a front to people to really understand. 

I think actions speak louder than words as mayor, really boots on the ground, understanding there’s a lot of power in being a younger mayor that’s raising young children. You’re constantly in the community because you’re with your children. Working across Fort Worth, having been chief of staff for Mayor Price and City Council for those five years, I have a unique perspective working across every single council district, working with council members to understand what they want to achieve. And that’s the same mentality I’ll have as Mayor.

Learn more about Parker's campaign here

Deborah Peoples

In your view, what are the two biggest challenges facing this city?

Well, number one is bringing the city together. This is an extraordinary city, Jason, but because of things that have happened in recent events around the country, the city is looking for leadership to bring us all together into one Fort Worth. So, I think the next mayor is going to have to have the ability to bring people from all walks of life, all races, all religions together to create a shared vision.

Fort Worth is the largest Republican led city in this state… but the city has voted blue in congressional elections and for president in 2020.  Even though this is a nonpartisan election, municipal elections are in this state, does this race represent something bigger than that?

I think what this race represents is that the people of Fort Worth want to move this city forward into one shared vision.  And so, I think you have people, and so when you talk about it, vote blue.  

We’re going to talk about issues, like we need multimodal mass transportation. That’s what the people are telling us. We need great economic development for small business. That what the people are telling us. We need good housing and good education. We need to be putting great individuals into the workforce and I think that’s what the people of Fort Worth are telling us is that we need to move this city forward so that everybody gets a chance to grow and thrive.

Let’s talk about policing for a moment too, because that is something the city has a painful past with, obviously. But the city seems to have made strides to improve that over the past few years. What work, specifically, do you think remains?

I think we have to go back and look at the whole thing around public safety.  So, Jason, my brother was a policeman. My sister was a constable. So, I’m well-versed in the challenges that law enforcement has.  

But I also am a person of color and so I see it through two different lenses. I see it through the lens of my brother and my sister and so, I want our police department to thrive and be successful. I want people to respect their police. 

But I know to do that, we’ve got to be more accountable and transparent. Citizens want to know what’s going on with their police department. They also want us to engage, to have police in their community. So, I think we’ve got to go back and make sure that we’re doing all of the things that will build trust in our communities and I’m willing to do that. 

So that goal, if that goes all the way back to looking at recruitment, to look at hiring practices, to make sure that we’re training our police officers adequately and that we’re taking things off their plate that are burning them down right now. 

And so, I told the police union when I talked to them, I said this is not an us versus we. It’s us. I am one of you. When I am mayor of this city, I am a de facto member of the police department and so I’m going to be out there in the community with you talking about the great things that we do. And when we make a mistake, we’re going to own it and fix it. 

So, I’m looking forward to this. I think we’ve got a lot of great public servants out there, but we have to listen to our communities and blend the two together.

To be clear, do you support defunding the police? Taking any money away at all?

So, I think that’s a dog whistle. I tell everybody that term is a dog whistle and is used as fearmongering. What I want to do is put money into programs that are going to help the police and offload them from doing their job. 

Does that money come from the police budget?

That money comes from wherever we need to get it to fund those programs. We need to find the money. I’m so tired of people talking about the budget being finite. We need to find money to put into programs for prevention and intervention. 

So, I bristle a little at the word "defund the police" because I think people use it as a catchall to create fearmongering and divisiveness. And that’s not me. I’m about creating a police department that is loved, respected and a police department that loves and respects the community they serve.

So, to be clear, you think there are other things that could and should be developed to help this city, but as far as where the money comes from to pay for that…

Absolutely. I think that’s my job as mayor is to find that money. That’s what you want the mayor to do is be creative and find that money. But things like domestic violence and things like mental health programs, we need to be funding those programs so that a policeman at the end of his shift doesn’t get a call to go and deal with a mentally ill person when they’re not equipped to do that.

For as much talk as there is about unity, there is a clear divide in this city.  How will you be a mayor for all of the city and not just the half that voted for you?

So, this is what I do best. Jason, what I do best is bringing people together and I tell people "don’t fear change." Change is inevitable, but don’t fear change.  

I didn’t work for 30 years at a major corporation and get to be a vice president by only representing half of my team. I had to learn to represent labor and to represent management and to find ways to bring them together. That’s exactly the way I’m going to reach out in this city. 

I don’t care what political persuasion you are. I don’t care what race you are. I don’t care what religion you are. We all want Fort Worth to thrive. So, there are common issues that we can work on and good leaders find that common thread.

Learn more about Peoples' campaign here.