Politics

In Fort Worth, Deborah Peoples Hopes to Be Symbol of Change and First Black Mayor

Deborah Peoples will face Mattie Parker in the June 5 runoff election for Fort Worth mayor.
Deborah Peoples will face Mattie Parker in the June 5 runoff election for Fort Worth mayor. Courtesy Deborah Peoples
Deborah Peoples grew up poor, but she had an enriching upbringing. The Fort Worth mayoral candidate’s parents encouraged her to get involved in her community and advocate for equity, diversity and social justice, she continues to work for those values.

Today, many Fort Worth residents feel overlooked and complain that their neighborhoods have been neglected, Peoples said. But she’s confident she’ll unite disparate communities should she win in June 5’s mayoral runoff election.

“I love this city, and I tell everybody … I happen to be the standard-bearer for change,” Peoples said. “When I am mayor, this will open the city up for so many residents that felt excluded.”

Earlier this month, Peoples finished in first place ahead of nine other mayoral hopefuls, thus advancing to a runoff with candidate Mattie Parker. Current Mayor Betsy Price is a Republican, but Peoples worked as the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair before stepping down earlier this month.

Parker served as Price's chief of staff.

Last week, the Texas Democratic Party (TDP) recognized Peoples through its Project LIFT program, which provides support for Democratic municipal candidates. Calling her the "perfect example of a true community leader," party chair Gilberto Hinojosa wrote the party fully supports her for mayor.

“Deborah has proven time and again to be a visionary leader capable of creating major progress for Texans," Hinojosa said in a statement. "Due in large part to her leadership, Texas Democrats made history by turning Tarrant County blue during the 2020 presidential election."

On Friday, Peoples tweeted she'd earned the backing of EMILY's List, a Democratic political action committee, and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke has also endorsed her.
This isn’t the first time Peoples has set her sights on becoming Fort Worth's mayor: In 2019, she challenged the incumbent Price. Despite getting pushback from some who told her Fort Worth wasn’t ready for its first Black mayor, Peoples won 42% of the vote.

The Democrat has long fought for social justice issues, and she counted herself as part of the civil rights movement. After George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last year, she spearheaded the painting of a large street mural declaring “END RACISM NOW.”
Peoples is also a business executive, having worked for more than three decades at AT&T. There, she started out as a laborer and union member, but over time, she became a vice president in charge of 5,000 representatives and managers across 22 states.

Throughout those years in "corporate America," Peoples said she learned how to do a balance sheet, run a profit center and develop people. She’s confident her business credentials, coupled with her work in social justice, make her the stronger candidate.

“I’m the best of both worlds,” Peoples said. “You nail those two things together and you get a perfect person to lead this city forward.”

“When I am mayor, this will open the city up for so many residents that felt excluded.” – Deborah Peoples

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Fort Worth is a vibrant minority-majority city, but at the same time, diversity and inclusion aren’t celebrated, Peoples said. She’ll work to bring good jobs to town, especially given that Tarrant County consistently lags behind business-magnet Dallas.

At the same time, Fort Worth’s population is growing rapidly, so Peoples will set out to create solid housing and mass transportation plans. She also said she'll prioritize education efforts so students will be prepared to enter the workforce.

“When we really sit down and we look at the city, and we look at the makeup of the city, we begin to practice diversity and inclusion,” Peoples said. “Then we start to be able to deal equitably with all of the issues that fall underneath it.”

Recently, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association began circulating a mailer claiming that Peoples has tried to "defund the police," an accusation that has been tossed around in Dallas City Council elections as well.

The flyer also states that crime has increased in cities that cut police budgets, but fails to mention that Fort Worth’s own crime rate has spiked despite a funding increase.

Such attacks only sow more division in the city and foster an “us against them” mentality, Peoples said. Her oldest brother was a police officer and her sister a constable, so she understands that law enforcement has a dangerous job to do. At the same time, though, she’s a Black person who believes departments have historically over-policed poor and minority communities.

To Peoples, the “defund the police” accusation amounts to simple race-baiting, and it encourages people to be afraid instead of looking at “what’s behind that curtain.” As mayor, she said she'd focus on off-loading certain responsibilities from the police so they don’t have to deal with something they’re not equipped to, such as mental health crises.

Without mentioning Peoples, her opponent, Parker, said in a recent campaign video that the city needs "well-funded" police.

And although she’s a Democrat in a somewhat conservative county, Peoples is dedicated to “every resident’s satisfaction.” Party affiliations fall away, she said, when people band together to resolve an issue.

“That’s how I’ve been successful in my life,” Peoples said, “and that’s how I know I’ll be successful as mayor.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter