Term as Mayor of Fort Worth
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When the 12th Congressional District elected its first Republican this century, Kay Granger says she knew what the people of Fort Worth were saying.
"It was my record as mayor that I think people voted for," Granger said from her office in Fort Worth. "I had worked with groups from across the board, from neighborhood activists to business leaders. It is still a district in which 56 percent of the people call themselves Democrats."
Granger's record as mayor of Fort Worth is part agressive economic development, part crime fighter and part activist politician.
While dealing with Fort Worth's crime rate, Kay Granger did something very few politicians do; she proposed a tax increase.
"She worked to establish a crime district, which allowed cities to impose a 1/2 cent sales tax to increase funds for crime prevention," Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "She first worked in Austin to pass the legislation than worked in Fort Worth to pass the tax."
Many of her advisors at the time questioned the wisdom of the proposal.
"She has always had amazing perception when it comes to politics," Shirley Ferrell, the office manager in the Office of the Mayor, said. "When she came up with the tax increase to fund more police, I thought it wouldn't fly. Nobody proposes new taxes. But she would go out and speak to everyone to explain the plans and point to successes and the people overwhelmingly supported it."
Granger said the success of the tax plan could be attributed to the city's approach to the problem, rather than her political savvy.
"We would try programs in one neighborhood, see what worked and what did not, and then I could go the people of Fort Worth and say ‘See the crime rate dropped 50 percent in this neighborhood and now we need money to take this plan city-wide,'" Granger later recalled. "That was a lot more convincing than simply saying this is the way to go."
Granger became mayor in 1991, following the retirement of Bob Bolen, who served as mayor for nine years.
"Three people ran to replace me, but she was the one who had the focus and the sense of timing," Bob Bolen, who now works at Texas Christian University, remembered. "She didn't talk about running, she went out and did it. The same thing happened with the Congressional seat. When [Congressman Pete Geren] retired, she was ready to roll 48 hours later."
Yet, 1991 was not a good year for the Fort Worth area. A rising crime rate and shrinking job base had left the city with an uncertain future. Granger, who had only been on the City Council for two years, ran for mayor by promising to take on the issues facing the city.
"When she took over she said she had won because no one else wanted the job," Kenneth Barr, the current mayor of Fort Worth, said. "Kay gets a lot of credit for turning this town around. She played cheerleader, braintrust and innovator."
Fort Worth reeled from economic setbacks and an increasingly violent downtown.
"It was a really rough time in Fort Worth when she came to office and she rallied the city and the business community to do something, anything about it," recalled Mary Palko, a civic activist and long-time Granger associate. "That is why people have such a high admiration for her."
Granger used the office of the mayor to rally support as soon as she was elected.
"Fort Worth has a system where the mayor does not have a lot of institutional power, but both Kay Granger, and mayor Bob Bolen before her, used the bully pulpit very effectively, and in that way were very powerful mayors," recalled Katie Sherrod, a public affairs producer at the Dallas PBS station, KERA.
Once the crime rate began to drop, Granger's administration turned to the other major issue facing Fort Worth in the early 1990s: the loss of thousands of jobs in a series of "busts."
"We faced every economic calamity any area could face," Pete Geren, who was first elected to Congress in 1989, recalled. "We had the oil bust; the real estate bust; the S & L bust, where nine out of ten banks failed; and then, to top it off, we had peace. We had just a series of serious body blows to our economy."
Granger remembered the time as one where the government, business and civic leaders realized their city's finances relied too heavily on defense contracts.
"We had been used to the defense cycles. General Dynamics, which became Lockheed, which later became Lockheed Martin, had employed as many as 33,000 people and as few as 13,000," Granger said. "When they got a contract everyone went to work, when it was over they would lay people off until the next contract. But Fort Worth had become too dependent on these huge contractors and when the defense downsizing hit, we saw the jobs were not coming back."
Granger responded to the recession and job losses by organizing Fort Worth's business community.
"[W]e tapped into that community pride once again," Granger said. "We organized 100 local business leaders and met to figure out what the city and the private companies could do to improve the situation. From these meetings we decided we should begin actively promoting the two products we had: 1) our workforce that was already trained to work in high tech industries and 2) was the sense of community and the huge drop in crime."
Fort Worth had a strong history of public-private partnerships that the new mayor could utilize to improve the state.
"A lot of her success was built on a foundation developed before she took office," Mayor Barr said from his office in Fort Worth. "We are reaping tremendous benefits from the work of years and many people."
Both observers and politicos said that the Fort Worth has succeeded in establishing a more stable financial future.
"We have diversified the region's businesses and established trade with Mexico and other areas," Geren, who came to Congress at the same Granger won a seat on the City Council, said. "This area has moved from the depths of a real economic depression to one of the more successful comeback stories. We are coming home to an area with a smile on its face and Kay Granger had a lot to do with it."
"She is very much a pull yourself up by your bootstraps type of person," Ferrell remembered. "She was divorced fairly young with three young children and she not only held her family together, she succeeded in both business and politics."
The rising rate of crime had been one of the prime reasons Granger had first entered politics.
"I ran for City Council because I was concerned about crime," Granger recalled. "My mother had had a stroke and moved in with me and my children in Fort Worth. She was terrified by the crime going on throughout the area and I was hopeful we could improve the situation."
While on the City Council and later as mayor, she focused much of her attention on the crime issue.
"Crime is always everyone's number one issue and she capitalized on it and then she addressed it really successfully," Kenneth Barr, the current mayor of Fort Worth, said.
Fort Worth's crime efforts garnered the city, and its mayor, national attention. Violent crime dropped off by 50 percent as the city tried several different programs to combat the issue. Granger and the city's police force focused on two methods to reduce crime; citizen action and increased resources.
"As mayor I tapped into that sense of community with projects like the Citizens on Patrol and the Citizens Police Academy," Granger remembered.
"She is most known for the fact that the crime rate dropped 50 percent while she was mayor," said Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "She reduced the rate with a combination of community patrolling, citizen patrols, and a controversial gang intervention proposal which drew a lot of criticism, but seems to have worked. Results like that made her one of the most popular politicians in Fort Worth."