The Race for District 5
District 5 encompasses much of the East Side and the historically Black neighborhood of Stop Six. The Cavile Place public housing development was recently demolished as part of a massive Stop Six revitalization effort that is possible, in part, due to a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Councilmember Gyna Bivens has represented District 5 since 2013.
Bivens is the president and executive director of North Texas Leaders and Executives Advocating Diversity, a nonprofit that provides free services to job seekers. The former broadcast journalist has served on more than 30 boards and commissions. Antonio Harris (Facebook @WinwithTwin5) attended Stop Six’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and currently owns and manages a lawn care service and business advertising and branding company. Mar’Tayshia James (Instagram @MJamesCityCouncild5) regularly leads park cleanups in District 5 and frequently speaks at City Hall. Ricky Vazquez (RickyVazquezforCityCouncilDistrict5.com) is an election judge and active member of the Democratic party. Bob Willoughby (FWDistrict5.com) ran for the District 5 seat in 2015, 2017, and 2019 and is a proponent of removing the influence of special interests from local politics.
We sent all five District 5 candidates the same question, and they responded in writing.
Please describe the unique needs of District 5 and your plans to serve the area.
Bivens: District 5 residential and corporate constituents are pleased to see improvements in infrastructure, economic development, police/community relations, and the need for quality builders taking place, but decades of municipal neglect in these areas have not been resolved. We have seen progress on major arterials like Randol Mill Road, Ramey Avenue, Precinct Line Road, Miller Avenue, and East Rosedale Street, but we must do better in communicating the methodology engineers use in prioritizing how neighborhood street needs are addressed. I am delighted that District 5 will be home to one of the first two transit-oriented developments anchored by the Lakes of River Trails (LORT) master-planned community and a rail station, but that is the only master-planned development in District 5 right now. That means we have to be on guard against shoddy developers who build with little regard to the spirit of the neighborhood. Residents in Stop Six complained [about] many boarded-up abandoned houses before I was elected. I asked developers why they avoided building in Stop Six and learned it was because of zoning restrictions. Stop Six now has a 66% increase in new housing permits. It turns out Stop Six was home to the city’s largest historic overlay (397 acres), but the structures within the boundaries never met the criteria for such a designation. Homes of my two aunts and grandmother were actually relocated to Stop Six as were many others. I removed the restriction with fewer than 20 residents opposing the zoning change. Many of our challenges stem from the fact that the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts focused on member priorities who mainly lived on the West Side. No one was lobbying for District 5. I am optimistic that the $35 million HUD grant will provide the catalyst to bring desirable and sustainable retail options that will enhance the quality of life here.
Harris: District 5 is socially uncomfortable in an environment where police continuously practice excessive force [and people are] undereducated due to a school system that cares more about the number enrolled versus the scores on the test. Economic growth [is] bankrupt from the lack of jobs, trades, and skills, and underdeveloped communities [are stricken] with food deserts, unhealthy fast-food restaurants, transit inequality, an environment of unused land, and dilapidated buildings plagued with gentrification. Not only for District 5 but for the city as a whole, we need adequate transit to ensure a safer, faster, and more efficient means of travel to jobs and leisure. The City of Fort Worth must do a better job of making the east side of I-35 mirror the west side of I-35.
James: The unique needs I feel District 5 has are crime rates, police relationship with the community, affordable housing, and communication. I believe that I can help steer those because I am one who has already begun to take action. Police restoring their relationship within the community is something that is imperative and needs to take place fast — not just by orchestrating functions or gatherings but by the people of Fort Worth knowing and seeing these changes. Housing is something that continues to be an ongoing issue, and I am not saying I will change things overnight. I plan on hosting and educating residents and seniors on grants and funding that are available to and for them when restoring their homes and rebuilding our city. More than often, we hear that the community is unaware of things taking place within their communities or that they are not notified of things that they should be notified about. I know for a fact after canvassing and just building relationships with my fellow neighbors that they feel as though they are the last to know about anything in their communities but the first to have to adjust to the changes. I just do not see that as right or fair.
Vazquez: Let me be clear. It’s not just about what I want to see the city do for District 5. It’s what the people in the community want to see and have been asking to see. First is vision. We want our youth to be able to think about or plan for the future with imagination or wisdom. We as a community have to prepare our children for the future to be better. Second is leadership. We have too many chiefs and not enough Indians, as the old saying goes. It’s time we are all on one accord and make this community what it used to be. We have to select the right leadership so the people can be one and not split as we see today. Third is collaboration. We have to work as a team for local economic growth and not against. We have to collaborate with our small business owners, other elected leaders, law enforcement, and local entrepreneurs so we can improve business relations and have that grocery store we want to see in District 5. Let’s help our local Realtors so we can have affordable housing, lower property tax, and [better] relations with law enforcement so we can feel safe again. If we come together and do this, we the people in District 5 will indeed have progress. Once we fix our community and bring it back to the roots of vision, leadership, and collaboration, I promise [that] we will have progress and become whole again.
Willoughby: Before District 5 can improve, we need voter education to inform citizens what a good candidate is over a bad one. Voting is an obligation, not a privilege. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association providing large sums of cash to candidates to influence an election is wrong, but what is more wrong is the candidate that accepts their endorsement or cash. There are lots of different reasons why people do not exercise their right to vote, which is especially problematic. These people will not vote because they feel that, fundamentally, the system is broken. And others do not feel like they have enough information. Councilmember Gyna Bivens has done a poor job informing residents about city functions that affect us like bonds, redistricting, and zoning. 2022 bond money should be used practically and profitably. A children’s amusement park at the north end of Lake Arlington with a petting zoo and 1,500-seat amphitheater would be profitable in more ways than one and good for District 5. To put another $12 million of bond monies into Rockwood Golf Course would not be smart.