But Peoples tapped into Democrats’ anger, and rallied thousands of new voters to push Parker, a lawyer and former Republican legislative aide, hard to the very last day.
This was Fort Worth’s biggest and craziest city election by far, and also its most expensive: $4 million combined for all the candidates, fighting over a job that pays $29,000 a year.
It drew statewide attention because — well, because of Texas.
And because of 2022.
And because Fort Worth had a Democratic voting history, yet still had a Republican mayor.
And because the 2020 presidential election never seems to go away, and neither does the guy who lost.
“As the urban areas in Texas have become more Democratic, the race in Fort Worth may be a harbinger of things to come,” said University of North Texas political science professor Kimi King.
At first, both candidates downplayed party history in a race for a job that mostly involves economic development, fire and police response, animal control and garbage pickup.
Parker and two other Republican candidates won a combined 55% in the May 1 general election to Peoples’ 34%, making Peoples the decided underdog in the runoff.
Then Peoples added statewide Democratic support, picking up endorsements from U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey and former presidential candidates Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke. Parker eschewed most party endorsements but was backed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Meanwhile, Texas Republicans were sputtering through a rough-and-tumble Texas Legislature session passing politically charged bills to help them win the 2022 primaries.
Still stung, the state Democratic Party put extra effort into Fort Worth to help Peoples.
It didn’t happen, because Parker’s campaign turned out a phenomenal number of new, young voters.
Like every election, Democrats were left talking about the future.
“To see all the diversity in the voters today was heartwarming,” Peoples said at midday as horns honked and voters called her over for photos outside the Viola Pitts/JPS voting site in west Fort Worth.
On the last election day, she went to breakfast at Yogi’s Deli & Grill on Hulen Street in conservative southwest Fort Worth. One voter said hello.
This time, she said, “10 people came up and said ‘We voted for you.’ In Yogi’s, of all places.”
This is how wild the election was: Peoples’ total of more than 25,000 early votes was more than Price got in victory in 2019. (And it still trailed Parker’s 29,000 votes.)
Peoples looked at the vote turnout and saw coming success.
“We’re this rich, amazing, diverse city,” she said. “When I see the people at [Mattie Parker’s] events, there is virtually no diversity. Look at the crowd at my events — we look like Fort Worth.
“Will it happen this time? It may not, but change is coming.”
For now, though, this is Mattie Parker’s Fort Worth.