A Mayor for All People(s): An Interview with Deborah Peoples

by | May 21, 2021 | Podcast, Politics

The following is a transcript of the Tex Mix podcast with host Jessica Montoya Coggins and Deborah Peoples, who is currently in a runoff election for Mayor of Fort Worth. A longtime advocate and activist in Fort Worth, Deborah is also the former chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. You can listen to the Tex Mix podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Jessica: Hello, and welcome to the Tex Mix brought to you by the Texas Signal. My name is Jessica Montoya Coggins, and I’m so excited to be joined by a very special guest Fort Worth mayoral candidate, Deborah Peoples.

Deborah: Yay. Well, I’m super excited, Jessica. And let me just tell you, not only do you represent an amazing organization of the Texas Signal, but you come from a great family, as my family would say good stocks. So I am super stoked this morning to be with this intersection between a great publication and a great family and a great interview.

Jessica: That is way too kind. I promise folks that I did not prompt that from Deborah. So Deborah is currently in the runoff for mayor of Fort Worth. The election is June 5th. A Saturday. We’ve talked about these Saturday elections, still not entirely sure why we have them, but you know, that’s w whole other discussion. Deborah actually came in first in the election that was held May 1st and now she is in the runoff and early voting begins on the 24th. And so just a little bit about Debra. She certainly needs no introduction, but she was born and raised in Fort Worth. She earned a bachelor of science and a master of business administration from Texas Woman’s University. She then worked for the city of Fort Worth and then spent many years with AT&T. She was a vice-president responsible for growing revenue across nearly half the country. But many of us know Debra through her role as the chair of the Tarrant County democratic party. That is a huge endeavor. And one that I think really gives someone a great perspective on the community. Debra, could you tell us a little bit more about your background and why you think it makes you unique to be mayor of Fort Worth?

Deborah: Okay, so really quickly I just want to make a quick correction. I was actually born in Alexandria, Louisiana and raised in Odessa, but I have been a fixture in Fort Worth so long people actually believe I was born there and raised it. But that’s the great thing about being involved, engaged in community is I have people all the time who walk up to me and say, I know you went to school with my sister or my brother. And so because I have become such a fixture and a mainstay, I don’t know if that’s good or bad in the community that people see that. But let me just talk for a minute about my work for the Tarrant County democratic party, because it is important. It really defines who I am. And I like to tell people, I came from a very politically active family and a family that was very involved in social justice work.

Deborah: So I learned at an early age about being engaged and working to create a better universe for not only my family and friends, but for everyone who lived around me. I grew up in a multi-racial community and a multiracial family, and we didn’t realize we were poor until I got to college and realized that we were considered poor. We didn’t know that because I had a very rich and rewarding life. And so fast forward to my time as an adult, if there was an issue that involved making life better for other people, it was always an issue that I wanted to be engaged in and champion. So I got to know my communities very well by working on issues and they weren’t just issues for people of color. They were issues around women’s rights. They were issues around the LGBT community. They were issues around the disabled. There were issues around religion, but I always felt like if I can make life better for someone else, then I really enriched and made my life better. So when I became chair of the democratic party here in Tarrant County, that is one of the things I focused on is enlarging the tent and bringing more people on board. And so, Jessica, what I’m proudest of is, under my leadership, we established one of only two labor council committees under a state party. We started the AAPI club, Asian American and Pacific Islanders group. We have a Muslim democratic caucus. You name it. We have a Latinx democratic caucus. A Black voter impact group. And that is what, when I believe that we function best as human beings, where we are bringing everybody to the table and hearing everybody’s.

Jessica: Your name is so synonymous with Fort Worth! I just assumed that you are from there!

Deborah: I just have been here so long people think I was born here. But I love that because it says that I have become so immersed in community that people can have not imagined the community without me. But, and that’s why Jessica, I want to be mayor. And I threw my hat in the ring for mayor. I think that there are so many issues where people don’t feel included and they don’t feel that their voices are being heard. And if we’re going to create a Fort Worth that is welcoming to all, that celebrates, not only our rich history, but our rich diversity and creates a community that welcomes everyone and allows everyone to thrive. Then we have to have a leader who is both compassionate, able to understand the issues and bring people to the table.

Jessica: Fort Worth is a city that I think a lot of people have misconceptions about even in Texas. For starters, it’s huge. This is a city that’s larger than Seattle, than Denver. I believe also larger than Atlanta. So in addition to that, the massive sort of population growth, what have been the biggest changes in Fort Worth over the last few decades and where, as mayor, would you like to see the city headed?

Deborah: So I love that you recognize that. So when you say what works for many people, they think of us as this dusty outpost that was established in the 1800’s. And, you know, we got our name as a nickname as the Panther city, because people said Fort Worth was so boring and nothing ever happened that a panther could sleep on the main street and nothing would happen. But that is not Fort Worth today. We are the 12th largest city in the United States of America. We have almost a million residents. The average age of our city is about 33, 34 years old. And Jessica, believe it or not, we are a minority majority city, about 35% of our residents are Latinx and come from countries all over not only South America, but Mexico. 20% of our residents are African American. 5% of our residents are Asian and hence, a large Asian American and Pacific Islander group here.

Deborah: I mean, it’s just this incredibly growing city and it is diverse and young, and we need to be making sure that we are creating space at the table for everyone. And I love to tell people, you know, one of the reasons that Dallas has been so successful is it does a great job embracing and celebrating diversity. We have not because many people see us as this, you know, Western outpost, where all of us are Cowboys. Now you know I have my cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. But, I love to tell people that Cowboys come in, all colors, shapes, and sizes. There were the vaqueros, there were Cowboys that were African-American. They were Asian American Cowboys. And so we need to be celebrating and lifting up. And I think that’s when the city really gets cooked.

Jessica: That is so true. There is this idea that cowboy culture is, you know, a very homogenous, very white history. And that is so not true.

Deborah: But that’s my Fort Worth, and that’s the Fort Worth that I’ve had the joy of experiencing is that I tell everybody I work across the entire city. I work with every group imaginable. And so that has been the Fort Worth that I’ve had the joy to experience over these many years that I have lived here. But I want the world to experience that. Not only do we have this extraordinary, cowboy culture that includes people of so many races and identities, but we also have this amazing art scene. And so while we have great museums, like the Kimball and the Modern here, we also have an extraordinary group of young, amazing emerging artists. And they are of every hue, from every section of the world. And we need to celebrate that and lift them up.

Jessica: Oh, certainly. Obviously I even think on the musician side, someone like Leon bridges.

Deborah: That’s what we don’t tell: the Fort Worth story. And I want us to tell the Fort Worth story is this story of amazing talent of amazing diversity. We’re going to put Fort Worth on the map and we need to do a good job of telling our story. I love that you talked about Leon Bridges. We had Ornette Coleman, who was one of the most amazing fathers of jazz. There is so much rich heritage in this city that we need to be lifting up. And when we do that, we have the opportunity to create a model for the rest of the country about how we treasure and celebrate residents of this city, how we treat newcomers to the city, how we treat immigrants. And so I want that to happen. And I think it takes all of us working together. And I tell people, you may be putting Deborah Peoples in the mayor seat, but Deborah Peoples does not govern alone. Deborah Peoples governs by listening to the voices of the residents and knowing what our citizens want, and then putting together a long-term strategic plan that has been crafted by all the hands in Fort worth so that we move forward toward this amazing future.

Jessica: You certainly have the perfect last name for that. As you’ve been running, what are some of the issues that you’ve been talking about or that you’ve really noticed that voters seem to resonate with and, maybe not just the ones that would sort of identify as a Democrat?

Deborah: I’ll just tell you the biggest thing is growth. And so it’s having a plan to deal with growth What I hear from people is that we are a young city. We have residents who are moving here in search of good paying jobs. And so we need to have bright jobs here, but we also need to be able to house all the people that are moving here and they want great, decent, affordable housing.

Deborah: So that’s something that we have to work on. We are now bursting at the scenes and we need to have a plan so that we continue that growth and we manage that growth It can’t just all be apartments. It can’t just all be single family homes. But we have to have a good creative plan to accommodate all of our residents, both old and new. And then another critical thing that we need to talk about is transportation. It is my belief that great cities have great transportation plans. And it’s not just my belief, but you can look at it. I mean, big cities have to have a way to move goods and services and their residents around and Fort Worth does not have a great multimodal transportation plan.

Deborah: I tell people when we had an opportunity to look at multimodal mass transportation, we passed. And so guess what the city of Dallas was able to get that grant. And there is light rail in the city of Dallas. That city of Dallas is growing and attracting businesses because it’s able to move, not only their people, but goods and services around the city in a very expeditious manner. We need to do that in Fort Worth. So I’m telling you: it’s diversity and inclusion, it’s jobs, it’s housing, it’s transportation. And of course it’s economic development. Fort Worth is a city that is made up of small businesses. They are the lifeblood of our city right now because we’ve only got two Fortune 100 companies headquartered in this area. And so we have to find ways to not only support our small businesses, but to help them grow. And so that’s what I’m hearing out on the trail. People want to have a leader who is focused on long-term planning and visionary leadership, and I am ready to deliver that to the citizens of Fort Worth.

Jessica: We’re huge proponents of transportation here at Texas Signals. So it is always very welcoming to hear city leaders discuss that. So 2020 was in many ways a profoundly transformational year. Certainly the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating and we’re still dealing with it. But there was also a real reckoning in regards to the inequality in the criminal justice system. What are your priorities when it comes to imagining a truly equitable future? And certainly Fort Worth has been the site of some really, really unjust civil violations particularly for people of color.

Deborah: So, Jessica, with regards to COVID, which was an assault on communities and specifically communities of color? So I don’t want to pass by COVID without talking about how health care, and our lack of health care and disparate treatment, affects all of us. I will tell you, I have been a huge person who’s been outspoken about how we rolled out COVID [protocols] in the city of Fort Worth. For me, it was our unwillingness, to accept the fact that we had this huge COVID crisis. I tell everyone I was looking to Dallas to get my COVID information, because I felt like the city of Dallas had a much more compassionate plan for dealing with our citizens and making sure that they were trying to protect citizens as best that they could.

Deborah: I felt like in Fort Worth we were trying to keep what we saw, what we kept saying is the economic engine going. And so we weren’t as compassionate as we needed to be with our citizens. So I think that’s number one, but we really saw the impact in communities of color. And specifically, we saw a huge impact of COVID in our Latinx communities. And there’s an amazing neighborhood here where the people are extraordinary. It’s the Diamond Hill Jarvis neighborhood. It goes back generations. And it never got out of the red. It stayed in the red for weeks and weeks and weeks. And I just thought compassionate leadership would have looked at that and said, we need to do something for this community. These are our citizens, they are hurting, but we stuck to our guns about trying to say we were working on economic development where we really allowed citizens to suffer.

Deborah: And so I needed to say that about COVID, but then the second thing, let me just talk about this reckoning and this whole idea around social injustice and systemic racism and the impact that it has not just on communities of color, but that it has on everyone. And see, so many times people want to pigeonhole these things and say, ‘Oh, systemic racism only impacts the Black community.’ No, it impacts every community. It impacts the white community, because when we are denying people, the ability to create wealth and to grow: the whole body hurts. And so I tell my white friends that when we have, when we see systemic racism and acting in communities of color, and you don’t see communities growing and you see, uh, and you see people not having jobs and you see people not having a decent housing, believe it or not, it impacts your neighborhood.

Deborah: Because if we had people with great jobs and people with great homes, with decent houses, they would be paying into the tax base. They would be generating wealth for this city. And it would be less of a tax burden on you. But sometimes we don’t see the big picture. And I think that is what has happened in many cities and many communities. People think, ‘Oh, gee, if somebody else gets it, that means I have to lose something.’ No. I want people to understand that if somebody gets and prospers, it allows you to continue to prosper. There’s more money in the system. There are more tax dollars flowing, you know, there’s a happier population. And so I think sometimes people look at these issues as them versus us not realizing that we all are here impacted by disparate treatment.

Jessica: That’s such a great way of looking at that. I’ve heard other people sort of say like, this is not like a pie. If somebody gets a slice, then that doesn’t mean you won’t get a slice.

Deborah: Well, Jessica, I use the pie stories sometimes, but I’m going to give you a boat story. So it doesn’t matter what kind of boat you have. You can have a canoe. I can have her Outrigger. Somebody else can have a big yacht, but when the waters rise, the waters of prosperity rise, all boats rise together. So that means that your little canoe is going to rise. My little Outrigger’s going to rise. And the person with the big yacht, their boat is going to rise. Our economic development and prosperity and decent housing when all of that starts to rise and get better. Everybody benefits from that,

Jessica: That is a much better analogy that makes me feel less hungry thinking about it. Deborah, again, thank you so much. And for folks that want to, maybe chip in or maybe get involved, as we head into this final stretch before the election: what can folks do?

Deborah: Gee, we love volunteers. So Jessica, they can go to DeborahPeoplesForMayor.com. They can make donations. I mean, campaigns have gotten expensive. And we don’t have campaign reform. So we need money. We need money to run these races. I’m going to give a plug for democratic candidates around the country. I’m going to give a plug for women and women of color. It is hard for Democrats, for women, but especially democratic women of color to raise dollars. We are given to the least, and the least amount money, but we are making a huge impact on our system. Because when black women are running, we are winning these elections. But we need money to do that. But the other thing you can do for me is not only giving me money, but where you can volunteer. Your time and your talent, we absolutely need. We need to knock on doors. We need to get Democrats out to vote. We need people to understand what’s at stake in this election. So, please go on and volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Austin, whether you’re in Houston, whether you’re in LA, whether you’re in New York, whether you’re in Odessa, Texas, where I was raised, you can sign into the system and make phone calls for me. And then if you’re in the area, you can also come and knock on doors. Jessica, this is a race that I’m running, not just for the citizens of Fort Worth, but I’m running for the residents of Texas and ultimately the residents, the United States, because when we have good progressive leadership in place, in all of our cities, then everyone fares better, everyone does better. And that’s what I want. And I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican or an independent, a member of the green party. I want everyone to fare better and their lives to be good and for them to thrive. And that’s what this campaign is about.

Jessica: That I think is such a beautiful distillation of what we love to see in our elected officials at the Texas Signal. And we’ve been talking a lot about the importance of local elections and municipal election. So folks, you heard it: head over to that website. And again, my thank you so much to Deborah Peoples. So even though she was not born and raised in Fort Worth, she is still very much synonymous with Fort Worth.

Deborah: Yes. And thank you for letting me join you today. We are working hard to win a victory for not only Fort Worthians, but Texans, and ultimately people of goodwill and good conscious and these United States of America. So we’re going to keep plugging, Jessica. And I hope to be back here visiting with you when I am mayor of the city of Fort Worth.

Jessica: I will definitely hold you to that. So again, my thanks to Deborah Peoples. And thank you so much for listening to the Tex Mix podcast. Follow us @TexMixPodcat, and be sure to check out Texas Signal.

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A longtime writer and journalist, Jessica was thrilled to join the Texas Signal where she could utilize her unique perspective on politics and culture. As the Features and Opinion Editor, she is responsible for coordinating editorials and segments from diverse authors. She is also the host of the podcast the Tex Mix, as well as the co-host for the weekly SignalCast. Jessica attended Harvard College, is a onetime fitness blogger, and has now transitioned to recreational runner (for which her joints are thankful).

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