It was moderated by Ryan Rusak, opinion editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Parker and Peoples garnered the top spots in the election on May 1, but because neither took a majority of the votes, a runoff will be held on June 5 with early voting beginning on May 24.
“I strongly believe that Fort Worth, Texas is positioned for greatness,” Parker opened, citing her 17 years of experience working for Republicans behind-the-scenes at all levels of government, notably spending five years as chief of staff to Mayor Betsy Price.
She touted her understanding of “smart policies” as positioning her to move Fort Worth forward.
“Change is inevitable and constant. How we deal with it is optional,” Peoples said in her opening statement. She said that her years of corporate experience position her to lead a city that is “growing by leaps and bounds.”
Peoples recently resigned as chair of the Tarrant County Democrat Party.
Among the endorsements Parker has received are retiring Mayor Betsy Price, former Mayor Mike Moncrief, council member and former mayoral candidate Brian Byrd, the Fort Worth Police Association, and the Star-Telegram.
Peoples has been endorsed by Beto O’Rourke, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks (D-Precinct 1), and such organizations as the Texas Working Families Party, a progressive political party that believes the current American political system is rigged, and The Collective political action committee, whose aim is to “build Black political power.”
The forum focused on issues such as economic development, education, the workforce, and the future of the city.
In response to a question by the moderator about whether federal unemployment benefits are causing workers to stay home, both candidates promoted the idea of a “living wage.”
“We need to pay workers a living wage so they want to come back to work,” Peoples said, adding that she believes the city should lead the charge in that effort.
Parker said the focus can’t be on minimum wage, but on training the workforce to have the skills needed to earn a living wage.
Parker is currently CEO of Fort Worth Cradle to Career and Tarrant To & Through Partnership, which works to improve training in schools to prepare students for the workforce.
The moderator asked several questions about diversity and inclusion in the city and its leadership.
Peoples is critical of the city’s performance in these areas, giving them a grade of “C” for implementation of the Race & Culture Task Force recommendations because she said the city modified the recommendations rather than accepting them as presented. She also asserted that the “Latinx” community has been ignored historically when asking business leaders for counsel.
Parker said she believed that the city has a “moral responsibility to refocus what it looks like to have economic development across this entire city,” including minority and at-risk neighborhoods.
She said she would focus on recruiting diverse talent to the city, especially by offering attractive policies. She gave the city a “B” for its implementation of the Race & Culture Task Force recommendations because she believes the process is ongoing. She highlighted the work of Kim Neal, who was hired last year to be the Fort Worth Police oversight monitor.
Parker also suggested the need to lower the barrier to entry for new business owners, and said that currently an entrepreneur needs about $200,000 to open a restaurant in Fort Worth. She cited Right to Start, an organization promoting a new “civic infrastructure” that helps businesses get off the ground, as having beneficial ideas for Fort Worth to consider.
However, Peoples criticized Paker for “looking around the country.” She appealed to the Black Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce members sitting in the room as those to whom she would look for ideas in supporting black business owners.
Both candidates believe the city must use economic incentives, like Chapter 313 tax abatements, to attract new corporations. The tax abatement program has been criticized by conservatives, but a bill to extend it for two years recently passed the Texas House.
Parker emphasized the need to attract businesses to Fort Worth by going “on the road to sell the vision and mission of Fort Worth. We need every tool to roll out the red carpet.” She added that it’s not only about corporate relocations but supporting existing businesses.
Peoples also believes in attracting new corporations to the city. She said her corporate experience with relocations gives her an advantage in understanding that they will consider the education level, housing situation, and transportation availability in a city.
She also said that corporate relocation is not an “overnight fix to right size the tax base” which is now based 60 percent on residential property taxes. Peoples believes a vibrant entertainment district is key to produce another revenue stream, a position that Parker also holds.
When evaluating the public transportation system in Fort Worth, both candidates support improvements. Parker would focus on current efforts like ZipZone ridesharing to help while developing a comprehensive strategy to improve regional transit with federal, state, and local funding.
Peoples is more adamant about an immediate solution to mass transit, saying the city needs a light rail system that is likely to cost about $2 billion. “We choose not to do it because we say we can’t afford it,” Peoples criticized, adding that there is no equity and inclusion without mass transit.
When asked by the moderator what idea of her opponent was good enough to steal, Parker demurred, but promised, if victorious, to sit down with Peoples and discuss what she would have wanted to accomplish as mayor.
Peoples acknowledged Parker’s focus on education, adding that she has listened to all of the 10 candidates who were a part of the race and considered the issues they raised.
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Kim Roberts is a 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.