Fort Worth is electing a new mayor Saturday in a race that resembles a Texas battleground and could lead to key decisions over policing in one of America’s largest cities as a former officer awaits trial over the 2019 fatal shooting of a Black woman.
The weekend runoff will decide the first new mayor in a decade for Fort Worth — Texas’ only big city with a GOP mayor as Democrats have made inroads into the red state’s most booming areas.
Although the race is officially nonpartisan, the feel of it is not: Deborah Peoples, a former Democratic Party county chairwoman who would become the city’s first Black mayor, was the top-vote getter in a crowded 10-candidate field in May. She advanced to the runoff along with Mattie Parker, a former top aide of the outgoing mayor whose GOP backers include Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed Peoples, while Republicans have brought activists from around the state into Fort Worth in an effort to hold the line.
“It’s become a very partisan race, and unfortunately, that has become the reality of this election,” said Rick Barnes, chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party.
The winner will take office just weeks before the scheduled August trial of a former Fort Worth police office charged with murder in the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman who was fatally shot through a window in 2019.
Jefferson had been babysitting her 8-year-old nephew at her mother’s home when a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that a door was ajar. Police have said that officer Aaron Dean opened fire from outside through a window after “perceiving a threat.”
Dean resigned after the shooting.
Outgoing Mayor Betsy Price called for a top-to-bottom review of the police department after the shooting and her successor could decide whether Fort Worth moves forward with establishing a civilian review board recommended by a race and culture task force. Parker has not committed to the idea, and Peoples has said the city had ignored recommendations put forward by its citizens.
Fort Worth, which is approaching 1 million residents, is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.
“The people have spoken for years saying that we want independent community police oversight from Fort Worth,” said Pamela Young, a lead organizer for United Fort Worth, which has pushed for policing reforms in the city.
Peoples lost her first run for mayor by double digits in 2019 to Price, who took office in 2011 and is the city’s longest-serving mayor but decided not to seek another term. but Democrats are hopeful that an open seat and shifting trends are in their favor this time. President Joe Biden narrowly carried the surrounding county in November, four years after former President Donald Trump won there by more than 8 points.