Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns

Gay councilman has no opponent yet but says he is prepared to battle for seat if opponent steps forward

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

FORT WORTH —  Cowtown’s first — and so far only — openly gay City Council member has filed for re-election to his second full term, and as of 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, was facing no opposition.

But there are about three weeks left before the filing deadline for the May 14 elections, and District 9 Councilman Joel Burns said this week he has heard rumors of a potential challenger.

“I have heard that Craig Hughes has said he is going to run against me this year, but he hasn’t filed yet and when I talked to him, he wouldn’t say for sure one way or the other,” Burns said Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 15.

Either way, he added, he is prepared.

“I assume I will have at least one challenger this year. I think we will all have at least one opponent this year,” Burns said. “There is a pretty strong anti-incumbency mood all over the country right now, and I don’t think any incumbent officeholder can take re-election for granted.”

Burns said, he believes the mood in District 9 is “fairly positive and supportive of me,” but he is preparing for a fight nonetheless.

“I am working on raising campaign funds, and I have more money in the bank [for his campaign] right now than any other candidate in any race. According to the reports filed in February, the only person with more money in their campaign account than me at that time was [Mayor] Mike Moncrief.”

Moncrief, however, announced earlier this month that he would not run for a fifth term as mayor of Fort Worth, leaving Burns alone atop the campaign fundraising heap. And Burns also pointed out that he had more money in his campaign coffers than Cathy Hirt, the only person who had declared herself as a mayoral candidate before Moncrief said he wouldn’t run again.

“Having those kinds of resources is certainly helpful when it comes to running for office, so I am encouraged on that front,” Burns said.

The May 5 election will be Burns’ third as a council candidate. He was elected to fill the District 9 seat left vacant when Wendy Davis resigned in 2008 to run for the Texas Senate, winning to become the city’s first openly-gay elected official. He ran unopposed for re-election in 2009.

The issues

As with most city governments — and state and federal entities — this year, budget concerns top the list of issues at the forefront of Fort Worth voters’ minds. Councilmembers found out this week, though, that the fiscal year 2012 budget shortfall, although still substantial at $31 million, is considerably less than the $73 million deficit the city faced for fiscal year 2011.

In other good news, the councilmembers learned that sales tax revenues are up in the city, with totals in December coming in as the highest amount ever collected in the city in one month, and sales tax receipts in the city so far up more than 9 percent over last year.

Still, city officials are likely to face some tough decisions as they look for ways to close the projected $31 million deficit this year, and Burns said he expects citizens to be looking for candidates with sound ideas for filling that gap.

Closely tied to budget issues is the issue of reforming the city’s pension plan, Burns said, and he expects that to be on voters’ minds as well.

Burns said voters are also looking at the way the council conducts its public process.

“That is an issue we will have to address. We need to find ways to really engage our voters, our citizens, so that the really feel like their voices are being heard and their input is valued,” Burns said.

Ongoing questions over the safety of oil and gas drilling in the Barnett Shale are likely to crop up in the campaigns, as are, Burns said, questions over ethics reform in city government.

“When it comes to ethics questions, we have already reconstituted the ethics commission, and we have some great people sitting on that commission now. [Mayoral candidate] Cathy Hirt has been talking about that some in her campaigning, but I believe we have already answered that call,” Burns said.

The mayor’s race

Hirt announced her intention to run for mayor of Fort Worth back in January, but it wasn’t until Moncrief said he wouldn’t run again that two other candidates — Jim Lane and Betsy Price — threw their hats into the mayoral ring.

Hirt, 56, who represented District 9 on the council from 1996 to 1999, is chair of the board for Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and has served on the boards of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation, among others, according to her campaign website.

Hirt has focused so far on the need to “put [the city’s] fiscal house in order.” Political watchers in Fort Worth have suggested she has backing from the local Tea Party movement.

Lane, a 66-year-old defense attorney, also served on the council — from 1993 to 2005, including the time when the council approved an amendment to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections based on sexual orientation — and is currently on the Tarrant Regional Water Board.

He has proposed a “12-point plan” that would involve creating separate task forces to study issues including pension reform, drilling in the Barnett Shale, economic development, the city’s relationship with the Fort Worth school district and more.

Price, 61, is currently serving her third term as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector but will be stepping down from that office to run for mayor.

Price, described by one Fort Worth pundit as “a conservative, a country club Republican,” points to her experience in managing the tax assessor/collector’s office — which collects and disperses more than $3 billion annually — as her qualifications for the mayor’s office.

(Dallas Voice has interviewed Jim Lane and has requested interviews with Hirt and Price. Watch for more on this race in the Feb. 25 issue.)

Council races

In District 2, Paul L. Rudisill has filed to challenge incumbent Sal Espino. Espino has filed for re-election.

District 3, incumbent W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman has filed to run again and as of Thursday, has no opponent.

Lupe Arriola has filed to challenge incumbent Danny Scarth in District 4. Scarth, the city’s mayor pro tem, is expected to run for re-election but as of Thursday had not officially filed as a candidate.

No candidates had filed as of Thursday to run in District 5, the seat currently held by Frank Moss. Moss is expected to run for re-election.

Incumbent Jungus Jordan has filed to run for re-election in District 6 and as of Thursday had no challenger.

District 7 incumbent Carter Burdette has announced he will not run for re-election. So far three candidates have filed to run to replace him. They are Dennis Shingleton,
Jonathan “Jon” Horton and Jack Ernest.

Kathleen Hicks, the District 8 incumbent, has filed for re-election and as of Thursday had no challenger.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.