Whether they realize it or not, Fort Worth voters have dramatically shifted the City Council.
When the winners of runoff elections are sworn in Tuesday, two-thirds of members will be new. Mayor-elect Mattie Parker will be the youngest leader of a large U.S. city at age 37. But the council overall will be much younger, too: As noted by former council member Joel Burns and his husband, political strategist J.D. Angle, the members’ average age will drop from 60 to about 46.
That could shift the issues that the council prioritizes, and it could produce common ground on long-term challenges such as transportation and policing. But with so much inexperience, the council could be in for a rough adjustment period, too.
“What it tells me is there is an active and engaged youth in our community, and that’s a great thing,” said Michael Crain, the new District 3 representative. “It will bring new, fresh ideas … that will help tackle our problems.”
Crain, 49, pointed out with a laugh that because he won without a runoff and has taken office before other newcomers, he’s already fourth in seniority on the council.
Several new members have also noted that more of them have young children than their predecessors, predicting that would give them similar perspectives about the city’s future.
“Politically, we may not see through the same lens, but on family structure, we see the same, having to balance family, balance school, balance the home life,” said Chris Nettles, 33, who won east Fort Worth’s District 8 seat. “We’ll be focused on education and resources for young people to be involved in the community.”
DIVERSITY AS A STRENGTH
Jared Williams, who narrowly won in District 6 over longtime incumbent Jungus Jordan and will be the youngest representative at 31, said the council’s increased diversity will be a strength.
“Educators, small business people, folks with young families — this amazing diversity on our council and reflection of our city will lead to some really strong decisions,” he said.
Overall, the new council will be more progressive, thanks largely to Williams’ victory and Nettles ousting incumbent Kelly Allen Gray. It’s notable that in both cases, the losing candidates were backed by the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s political committee, one of the biggest campaign spenders in local races. Elsewhere, the group’s candidates did well.
Nettles said that on his first day in office, he plans to ask council members to sign a letter asking Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson to push for a firm trial date for Aaron Dean. He’s the former police officer charged with murdering Atatiana Jefferson, whom he shot in her own home in 2019. Nettles also said he wants the council to consider creating a civilian review board for police oversight, as the Race and Culture Task Force that examined disparities in the city recommended.
The council will be tested, too, by the once-a-decade redrawing of districts. It’s always contentious, as it puts politicians’ own futures on the line. It’ll help that the council is adding two districts, but concerns about power and equity can be divisive.
HELP FOR THE UNDERSERVED
But a new approach could lead to more focus on long-neglected parts of Fort Worth, too. Each council member has to prioritize his or her district, but there’s increasing momentum to help underserved communities that need better transportation, healthcare and employment opportunities.
Declaring a “deep, audacious sense of hope,” Williams said the new council will take us another step toward being a world-class city.
For Parker, who’ll be under scrutiny as the city’s first new mayor in a decade, the stakes of how the council functions are high. She’ll have to persuade council members and make compromises. To see the political dangers for a young mayor to quickly get sideways with council colleagues, one need look only as far as Dallas, where Mayor Eric Johnson has faced complaints of heavy-handed treatment.
An important step will be to reflect the council’s diversity in appointing the mayor pro tempore and deputy mayor pro tem. Those positions aren’t particularly powerful or noteworthy, but one of them presides over meetings in the mayor’s absence. Council veterans Gyna Bivens and Carlos Flores would be excellent choices.
Fort Worth is a young city, with a higher share of children among its population than the state or nation overall. Come Tuesday, its government will reflect that.
“People in their 30s and 40s think differently than those in their 60s,” Nettles said. “When you’re in your 60s, you don’t have the same issues.”