Present were Brian Byrd, Daniel Caldwell, Cedric Kanyinda, Mattie Parker, Steve Penate, and Ann Zadeh. Mylene George, Mike Haynes, Deborah Peoples, and Chris Rector were absent.
Issues including property taxes, crime rates, pension obligations, homelessness, and economic development were addressed by the various candidates.
While the forum was mostly friendly with little disagreement on most issues, one issue caused a flap between candidates Byrd and Parker — the issue of city-funded pensions.
Byrd, a doctor who has served on the city council since 2017, pointed out that he proposed a plan in 2018 to fix the pension issue, but it failed. “There is a reason why the police association supports one of my opponents,” Byrd said, referring to Parker.
Byrd explained to The Texan that his plan would have required a small cost-of-living adjustment from retirees to help ease the burden of pension liabilities the city has. Instead, the plan that passed places the burden on taxpayers and is an “expensive fix,” Byrd said.
“I stood up to the police unions. I will always do what’s right for everyone,” he emphasized.
Parker, who was chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price, pointed out in her opening remarks that she has been endorsed by the Fort Worth Police Association. In response to Byrd’s criticism, Parker said, “It is not about being in someone’s corner. It is about knowing where we are and being a straight shooter.”
“I encourage anyone to examine the vote in 2018,” Parker told The Texan after the forum. She said that employees have to pay more into the system, and the city is phasing out pensions for civilian city employees (not police and firefighters) and giving them the option of having a 401k.
Parker has the endorsement of retiring Mayor Betsy Price while Byrd is endorsed by former mayor and current member of Congress Kay Granger (R-TX-12).
Penate, a pastor and real estate broker who touts his status as “an outsider who has a backbone and will lead the fight for conservative values,” believes the government should empower non-profits when it comes to issues like homelessness.
“We should work with those who are already helping,” pointing out that the church he pastors, Mercy Culture, has handed out 80 million meals to 500,000 people since March 2020.
He also believes that the right leadership can help stop the growing crime and trafficking problems in Fort Worth. “I will use my influence to talk about it. It is our responsibility to set the tone and say, ‘Not in Fort Worth!’”
Caldwell, an engineer and lawyer, brought first-hand knowledge of the homelessness issue, saying he has experienced homelessness in the past.
“I’ve been to shelters and in many cases, I’d rather sleep on the street.” He criticized many approaches for keeping people stuck in the cycle of homelessness.
He also believes that the increased crime that Fort Worth has experienced is a function of inclination and opportunity, both of which he says were exacerbated by the isolation and mask mandates imposed over the last year.
Kanyinda believes that the approach to homelessness needs to be “scientific” or methodical, providing homeless persons with shelter, then skills to get a job, support in getting a job, and then continuing the support until the person or family is well-established and secure. “We must work hard to end homelessness,” he emphasized to The Texan.
Regarding the property tax burden in the city, Kanyinda said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m leasing my own home,” adding that he believes the city must attract more businesses to ease the residential tax burden.
Like Kanyinda, all of the candidates recognized the problems associated with a high property tax burden and the need to diversify the tax burden by increasing the commercial property base, but Penate also said the focus needs to be on the budget.
“If we don’t spend money, we don’t ask you for money. Budgets need integrity and transparency,” he said.
Zadeh touted her credentials as a former city and regional planner and member of the city council. “I want to work together to bring success and a high quality of life to the city. That’s the way I lead. My goal is to bring everyone together. I want to hear from everyone.”
She believes that homelessness can be alleviated by providing affordable and permanent supportive housing throughout the city. She promotes the idea of “housing first,” and not requiring homeless people to “clean up their lives before they get housing.”
Having successfully worked to improve the Las Vegas Trail area of the city, Byrd believes in the power of public-private partnerships. Byrd’s wife also is involved in helping victims of trafficking through a drop-in center that is a public/private partnership.
An audience member asked Parker about her proposal to court corporations to relocate to Fort Worth, expressing a concern that these groups may cause the city to lose its unique identity and also drive property values even higher.
“We have to be proactive and go after the companies we want,” Parker replied. “We also need to invest in our students and let them be the future business owners.”
Byrd also believes in attracting companies to Fort Worth in creative ways. “Once they get here, they love it.”
When asked about tax incentives being given to attract businesses, Byrd said, “In theory, they make you scream, but they are necessary because all of the other cities do it.”
He added that the tax abatement agreements have time limits and performance requirements that also benefit the city.
After the forum, Parker also told The Texan that Panther Island is “a complete mess” and that no plans for it should move forward until the private sector is brought to the table to help create a working plan.
When asked about the future of Fort Worth, all the candidates gladly shared their optimism.
Zadeh said she is optimistic because of “the engagement and involvement in this city at this moment” referring to the many citizens involved in running for office in May.
“I’m so excited that people are waking up and saying local elections matter,” Penate emphasized.
In view of the future, Parker said, “I strongly believe Fort Worth is about to take off, and I’ll leave it better than I found it.”
Kanyinda pointed to the diversity of the candidates on the forum’s stage. “We have diverse candidates. We thrive in diversity. We will make our city better, bigger, and greater.”
“We always have room to improve, there is opportunity every day to improve, and we are surrounded by people who want to improve,” Caldwell added.
Byrd highlighted the opportunities available to citizens when the government “pulls back and gives us the room to thrive.” He touted his experience as an entrepreneur who has the temerity to push through as qualifying him to lead Fort Worth into a brighter future.
Fort Worth’s election for mayor is on May 1 with early voting beginning April 19.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.