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Betsy Price

May 4 election results

The hottest race was in San Antonio.

With more than 81 percent of the precincts counted, Mayor Ron Nirenberg took a nearly 3-point lead against Councilman Greg Brockhouse, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid a runoff to determine San Antonio’s next mayor.

Nirenberg, who led by two points following early voting pushed his lead to 48.42 percent with Brockhouse garnering 45.82 percent. However, a winning candidate would need to cross the 50 percent threshold to secure victory.

If neither candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held next month.

“Did any of you think it was going to be easy?” Nirenberg said Saturday night to a group of supporters, volunteers and staff assembled at Augie’s. “We’re in for a long night. But guess what, this long night’s because this city deserves it. We will wait here and we will grind away at the progress earning every single vote and rechecked in the politics of division until we walk away winners. Because that’s what this city deserves. This is a city for all.

“This is about the future of San Antonio, it’s not just about one election. And we’re going to win, because this city needs to sustain progress.”

Here are the results. Nirenberg increased his lead over the course of Election Day and was up by a bit more than 3,000 votes. The runoff between the progressive Nirenberg and the not-progressive Brockhouse will be contentious, and important.

In Dallas, State Rep. Eric Johnson led the big field for Mayor.

With 149 of 529 precincts reporting, State Rep. Eric Johnson has 21 percent of the vote, Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs has 17 percent, Lynn McBee has 15 percent, Mike Ablon has 13 percent and Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis have 10 percent.

Nine candidates ran for the open seat.

Mayor Mike Rawlings could not run again due to term limits.

Since no candidate got more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.

That runoff will happen on Saturday, June 8.

Those results are here, and they are more or less the same with 317 of 528 precincts reporting. Johnson is in his fifth term in the Lege and if he wins the runoff he’d vacate his seat, thus causing the fourth legislative special election of the cycle. In this case, it would be after the legislative session, so unless the Lege goes into overtime there would be no absence in Austin.

Elsewhere, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price won again, holding off former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples; those results are here. In races I was following, Nabila Mansoor was headed for a runoff in Sugar Land, collecting 34.22% of the vote to Naushad Kermally’s 39.16%. Steve Halvorson fell short again in Pasadena. The three Pearland ISD candidates also lost.

Congratulations to all the winners, and we’ll look to the runoffs in June.

The Fort Worth Mayor’s race

Worth keeping an eye on.

Deborah Peoples

Mayor Betsy Price has competition.

Democrat Deborah Peoples announced Tuesday night she is running for mayor in Fort Worth.

As Peoples addressed a crowd of several hundred people at 6 p.m., the back room of Angelo’s BBQ slowly became louder and louder. By the time Peoples arrived at the peak of her speech, the room was in an uproar.

“I believe it’s time. Time to stand up for Fort Worth, and time to stand up for each other,” she said to applause. “We have one chance to get this right. And we need a mayor who will stand up for all of us.”

The crowd started to chant, “it’s time” as Peoples continued.

“I am Deborah Peoples and I am running for Mayor of the City of Fort Worth,” she concluded.

Peoples was born in Texas and, 43 years ago, started working in Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission. She said the work taught her the importance of keeping city government accountable to its residents.

Peoples has been the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair since 2013. Before that, she was a vice president for AT&T for 33 years.

“Many people do not feel like leadership listens to them,” Peoples said in an interview. “You have to have vision to be a leader. And I think in Fort Worth, we have been kind of lumbering from crisis to crisis.”

This is a May election, so things are already in full swing. Democrats made a lot of gains in 2018, winning in places they hadn’t won in years. In some ways, Beto O’Rourke carrying Tarrant County was the biggest psychological blow to the Republican identity, because Tarrant had long been the exception among the big urban counties. Winning the Fort Worth Mayor’s race, with the former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party against the four-term Republican Mayor, would be another big dent. Price has won four two-year terms, so she’s going to be tough to beat, but this sure seems like a year where it could happen. Daily Kos has more.

What about Fort Worth?

Now that Houston has voted to join the litigation against SB4, there remains one big city on the sidelines.

Holding signs that said, “No hate in my Texas” and “Diversity not division,” protesters on Tuesday urged city leaders to join a lawsuit seeking to have Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law declared unconstitutional.

Members of the newly formed United Fort Worth want the Fort Worth City Council to join legal challenges to Senate Bill 4 — a measure that when it takes effect Sept. 1 will allow police to question people’s immigration status during traffic stops.

The grassroots group, formed three weeks ago by four young adults, held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to highlight how they believe SB 4 will impact immigrants and other sectors of the Fort Worth community.

United Fort Worth includes advocacy groups such as Faith in Fort Worth, Indivisible FWTX, the North Texas Dream Team, Casa del Inmigrante and others to give voices to those who have not been heard, said Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, 22, one of United Fort Worth’s founders.

The city is approaching one million residents but has not focused on the social issues that confront it, Rodriguez contended.

“We have a lot of new people here,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, this coalition will help us share ideas with the city and together we can find a way to implement positive change.”

That includes persuading the city to join a lawsuit originally filed by the South Texas city of El Cenizo. San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are also challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

“There are several large cities and small cities that have joined the lawsuit,” said Anita Quinones, an activist with Indivisible FWTX. “In the meantime, Fort Worth has been pretty quiet. There is opposition to Senate Bill 4 … in the community.”

Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas were there more or less from the beginning. Houston took a little longer – there’s no question that everything else was on pause until pension reform was completed – but it was always going to get there. Fort Worth, which has a Republican Mayor and some progressive policies, including one of the longest-standing non-discrimination ordinances in the state, is more of a cipher. No elected officials from the city were quoted in the story, which may mean the author didn’t focus on them or maybe that no one in Fort Worth city government is talking about this yet. The activists have the right idea in getting organized and making this a priority for them. The first step is to get the attention of Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council, and to get them to engage on the issue. I wish them all the best.

Fort Worth adopts minimalist rideshare regulations

This ought to be interesting.

Uber

Months of work redrafting the city’s vehicle-for-hire ordinance wrapped up Tuesday night when the Fort Worth Council approved new rules that require transportation companies only to register with the city.

The approach chosen by Fort Worth avoids more onerous regulations — including requirements for fingerprinting drivers — that proved problematic in other cities. And it gives Uber, Lyft and others the hands-off regulatory environment they had pleaded for in the city.

The City Council long ago began exploring how to cover the fledgling industry with an ordinance, only to realize months into the process that it didn’t want to regulate the transportation companies, saying smartphone app-based ride share companies had changed the business landscape.

Council members opted for free-enterprise and competition despite a last-minute plea from the traditional taxicab companies that wanted the city to continue to regulate their industry. Taxicabs have always been regulated, they said, and that’s what the public expects.

Jack Bewley, president of Yellow Cab, said the proposed ordinance did not ensure safety for the passengers. He warned the council the city could see an influx of one-man cab companies with owners who have criminal backgrounds and can’t get insurance.

“This ordinance is being set up where an individual … can come down here and say I want to start a taxicab company,” Bewley said.

Lyft

The council voted 8-0 to approve the new ordinance. Councilman Jungus Jordan was absent.

Mayor Pro Tem Sal Espino said the ordinance meets market innovation.

“Council, in articulating its vision for the regulatory framework, decided the best way is the free-market approach. At this point in time, in the evolution of the ride-sharing services and the transportation services, this is just another option. After much debate, after much discussion, we’re ready to move forward.”

Mayor Betsy Price said, “We just must embrace all forms of transportation to avoid gridlock in our city and allow our citizens to get around. Part of our job is to not cause undue burden on businesses or citizens. Unlike other cities that have gotten so hung up in the hot potato politics of this, Fort Worth is going to do it the right way.”

[…]

Under the new ordinance, which takes effect Oct. 1, companies, whether motorized or non-motorized, will pay a $500 operating license fee that’s good for two years. The companies will be required to annually certify that they have done national background checks on their drivers, that their drivers hold valid driver’s licenses and that drivers and vehicles are properly insured.

The ordinance does come with a strict penalty if the company is found not to be in compliance — it will lose their operating license for two years. Passengers can file complaints with the city.

Well, that’s one way to do it. I sent an inquiry to Uber about how Fort Worth’s ordinance differs from those in San Antonio and Dallas, and I was informed that while Uber’s screening process is the only mandatory background check for those cities, San Antonio offers drivers an opportunity to voluntarily undergo a fingerprint background check, and drivers in Dallas are required to obtain a City permit. The only additional step drivers are required to complete to obtain that permit is undergoing an additional vehicle inspection.

It will be interesting to see what the response is when the inevitable problems arise. Bad apples will always slip through, as they have done in the pre-Uber days, and some of them will turn out to be the kind of person you’d really want to be the kind of person to be identified by a background check as a bad risk. It’s Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Johnson and the members of their City Council who would face any consequences from this. It could easily be overblown by sensationalist news coverage, but if something bad does happen, it could really blow up. Just something to keep an eye on, and to keep in mind as the legislative session approaches.

Not addressed by this story is the question of access to rides for people with disabilities. One of the reasons why cab companies have been regulated the way they are is because they have a mandate to provide service for residents who can’t get themselves around town. How will that work under this structure? In Houston, Uber agreed to provide a certain number of vehicles that can accommodate people with disabilities, and in their more recent threat to leave they stated that accommodations for the disabled could be achieved under a regulatory scheme that was more to their liking (scroll to the bottom). In some cities, this UberACCESS service has partnered with transit agencies as well. What responsibilities do rideshare and traditional cab companies have in this new environment? There’s already litigation over the issue of disabled Texans being denied service by rideshare companies. I’m sure they’ll be watching what happens in Fort Worth with great interest.

All that said, this could work out fine. It may be that the issue of access for disabled folks will continue to be addressed in a way that is acceptable to all, and it may be that the number of problems with drivers of questionable backgrounds is vanishingly small. This will certainly provide fodder for that debate. It’s not the approach I would take, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We’ll just have to see how it goes. The Chron has more.

The Mayors opine for high speed rail

They pen an editorial in its favor.

We are proud to be mayors of three of the largest and fastest-growing cities in America. Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston have weathered the recent economic downturn and are now the engines powering our state’s tremendous job growth. While we celebrate the individual successes of our respective cities, we also recognize how important Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are to each other.

With the bounty of economic growth comes the challenge of thousands of new people relocating to our cities, as well as increased commerce in the form of trucks on our highways. Moreover, many Texans are surprised to learn that over 50,000 “super-commuters” travel between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston more than once a week. Additionally, millions of our respective residents have friends and family separated by the 240-mile stretch of Interstate 45. These factors create congestion and place a massive and growing strain on our infrastructure.

[…]

One of the reasons high-speed rail projects in the United States have been unsuccessful thus far is that they have relied solely on government funding for completion. We hope that Texas Central Railway can succeed because its approach to this project is unique. For the first time, we are seeing a market-driven approach to high-speed rail led by private investment. We applaud the way in which Texas Central brought a much-needed project, an innovative approach and its checkbook to Texas.

Countries across Europe and Asia have enjoyed high-speed rail service for decades, but the United States is not yet home to the kind of rail line proposed by Texas Central. As Texans, we take great pride in blazing a path for the rest of the country to follow. This effort will do just that.

High-speed rail will provide a travel alternative that will help alleviate congestion on I-45, create thousands of quality jobs and may help Texas travelers reduce their carbon footprint. We look forward to the day when the residents of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth can travel on a high-speed rail between our two metropolitan areas in fewer than 90 minutes.

See here for the background. The same op-ed ran in the Chron on Monday as well. I would quibble with the wording of that first sentence in the third from last paragraph – as with anything related to government funding, politics is always the bigger issue than the funding itself. Be that as it may, as the TCR folks will readily tell you, the Houston-Dallas corridor is uniquely well-suited for their project – two huge urban centers a workable distance apart, separated by a lot of flat and empty land with existing freight rail rights of way to leverage. I absolutely hope TCR will be a big success that will serve as a catalyst for other rail projects, beginning with the completion of the Texas Triangle, with a Houston-Austin connection and extensions to Galveston, Oklahoma City, and Laredo/Monterrey, but I don’t know that I’d expect subsequent projects to follow the same business model. It’s entirely reasonable to me that some greater form of government involvement, perhaps a public-private partnership, may be needed for future lines. Or maybe this will be so successful it will demonstrate that somewhat less optimal alignments can still make money. It’s way too early to tell.

Anyway. Since the op-ed mentioned supercommuters, I thought I’d refer back to this blog post about them, because we have quite a few in Texas. While the TCR line will undoubtedly make life easier for these hardy folks, I don’t think that will directly affect traffic much – I figure the bi-metro types either fly or do their driving on weekends and other non-prime times. Getting them off the road will still be a big win environmentally, of course. There’s just a lot to like about this.

The Mayors love high speed rail

As well they should.

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The endorsements come as the Federal Railroad Commission is “30 to 60 days” away from formally launching an environmental impact study of the project, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central Railway. The study, which will be funded by Texas Central Railway, is a critical step on the project’s path to drawing approval from federal regulators.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. As you know, I’ve been following – and a fan of – this project for some time. What’s especially exciting about this is the news that Texas Central Railway will be getting the EIS process started soon, because from there is where it begins to get real. I had the opportunity along with a couple of my blogging colleagues to meet with Eckels and other TCR folks and ask them some questions about the project; PDiddie wrote up some notes from the meeting. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that you should check out TCR’s latest presentation about the state of their business, and then go look at Eckels’ presentation at a recent HGAC brown bag lunch, which is on YouTube. It’s an exciting time. Dallas Transportation and Texas Leftist have more.