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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Water Board incumbents cruise to victory; Cluck ousted in Arlington

The hard-fought race for the two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District ended Saturday with a sweeping victory by incumbents Jim Lane and Marty Leonard over three challengers.

In Arlington, long-time Mayor Robert Cluck was ousted by challenger Jeff Williams, a local businessman. Arlington voters also overwhelming approved a ballot proposition to ban red-light cameras.

The contentious race for the TRWD board, which saw extraordinary fundraising and extreme mud-slinging, re-elected Lane, 70, and Leonard, 78, to new four-year terms. Both received more than 33 percent of the vote. Lane received 17,357 votes and Leonard received 17,110 in the five-way race that elected the top two candidates with the most votes.

“This was not so much a victory for me and Marty as it was for the TRWD and its great professional staff who are truly the best in the state,” Lane said in an email. “The people who rely on TRWD for their water supply can rest assured that the quality of water will continue for years to come.”

Leonard and Lane ran as a slate with the backing of two political actions committee. One of those committees, Our Water, Our Future, with former Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer, alone raised more than $500,000 from some of the wealthiest individuals in Fort Worth and Dallas.

Challengers Michele Von Luckner and Craig Bickley also ran as a slate with the support of wealthy Dallas businessman Monty Bennett. Von Luckner received 7,650 votes or 14.8 percent; Bickley received 7,076 votes or 13.7 percent.

“We are disappointed in the results of this election given the clear and vocal resentment toward the ongoing actions of the Tarrant Regional Water District under Board President Vic Henderson,” Bickley and Von Luckner said in an email statement. “Our goal was to bring more attention to the actions of the board, and we succeeded.

“As supporters of open government who have stood up against an establishment looking to advance their own interests, we will continue to speak up for Trustee Mary Kelleher and against the actions of the TRWD board,” Bickley and Von Luckner stated.

Challenger Keith Annis ran unaffiliated in the race. He received 2,429 votes or 4.71 percent.

More than $700,000 was raised in the race by the candidates and political action committees supporting them.

Lane and Leonard released attack ads that accused Bennett, along with Bickley and Von Luckner, trying to seize control of Fort Worth’s water supply, a claim Bennett denied.

Bennett, who owns hotel properties in Fort Worth, lent financial backing to challengers in the 2013 race that ousted one long-time incumbent and seated Kelleher. His interest in the TRWD is connected to his battle with the district over use of eminent domain to claim a portion of his East Texas ranch for the $2.3 billion East Texas pipeline.

Bennett has sued the district over allegations of state open meeting and records violations in the process of trying to take his land.

In Arlington, Williams received 15,499 votes, or 58 percent to Cluck’s 10, 461 votes or 39.1 percent. Two other candidates, Didmus B. Banda and Jerry Pikulinski, were distant finishers with less than 3 percent combined.

Cluck, 76, physician, was elected mayor in 2003 after serving two terms on the Arlington City Council. He was supported by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings among others.

The red-light camera ban was approved with 15,885 votes or 59.5 percent. Opponent cast 10,808 votes or 40.5 percent.

“We did it! Red-light cameras are finally finished in Arlington, Citizens for a Better Arlington, the grass-roots organization that backed the ban said in a Facebook post.

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