Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson embraced the importance of working together to advance common goals and tackle the shared challenges of the Dallas-Fort Worth region during a joint appearance Monday before the North Texas Commission.
Price, now in her 11th year as mayor, and Johnson, who was elected in June to succeed Mike Rawlings, have quickly established a friendly relationship.
Although Price had known Johnson as a state legislator – he served for nearly a decade in the Texas House of Representatives – the Fort Worth mayor recounted that she attended Johnson’s mayoral inauguration after his victory in a runoff election and immediately invited him to lunch.
“I invited him to come to Fort Worth to have lunch or I could come over to Dallas,” she said.
He agreed to meet in Fort Worth, where Price picked a restaurant that offered good food and a true Fort Worth experience. They went to Reata.
“He was good enough to share calf fries with me so I knew we would work together well,” Price said.
The two mayors took turns during their North Texas Commission appearance answering questions about topics such as transportation and mobility, jobs and the workforce, affordable housing and public safety.
For his part, Johnson said he decided to give up his seat in the Legislature representing Dallas as a Democrat because he wanted to roll up his sleeves and have a greater impact on the city and people of Dallas.
Johnson grew up in a working-class family and “we struggled,” he said. “We lived in 10 different places from the time I was born until I graduated from high school.”
He grew up in West and South Dallas, inner city areas that face significant challenges.
Unlike other mayors and city administrations before him, Johnson said he does not believe that bringing more real estate development to struggling areas is the answer.
“I think the problems of South Dallas are people problems,” he said. “Education is the key to attainment. If people have more education, they will have more income and that will bring more jobs and more businesses because the area will be seen as valuable.”
While he enjoyed his time in the Legislature, he said, being mayor of Dallas has the important benefit of being a nonpartisan position. Price and Johnson agreed that decisions can be made and progress can be made more easily without partisan allegiances and party demands.
Although Dallas and Fort Worth have separate identities, they face similar challenges as large Texas cities.
“There are certain circumstances when you don’t want to have to go it alone,” Johnson said. “And then there are times when each of us needs to think about our separate communities and what are needs are.”
The competition for the second Amazon headquarters is the perfect example of that, they said. Both cities, as well as many of the suburban communities in the DFW area, presented their own sites and made their best arguments for their communities.
“But we all agreed that we would rather see it come to DFW first rather than go to Austin or Houston,” Price said. “North Texas first because that would benefit all of us.”
One new regional priority the two mayors said they hope to focus on is marketing DFW as a hub of the technology industry. Uber recently announced plans to open a major new office center in Dallas, bringing about 3,000 jobs to the city’s downtown.
Dallas is already known as a major financial services and banking center and Fort Worth is known for manufacturing, especially for the defense industry, but neither is widely recognized as a technology hub.
Austin is generally considered the technology hotspot in Texas but Price said that perception shortchanges North Texas.
“There are more tech jobs already in DFW than there are in Austin,” she said.