Months of getting signs planted in yards, at businesses and, yes, on church property, participating in forums and stepping into the glare of the public spotlight – for the first time for many – reach a payoff point Monday.
Early voting begins Monday, April 24, for the May 6 local election. Candidates are vying for three seats on the Abilene City Council, including mayor, and three seats on the Wylie ISD board. Only two are opposed.
The Abilene ISD does not have an election this year.
All total, 15 city and school residents entered the fray. Only one has his feet up. Wylie ISD board candidate Brad Hill is unopposed.
Early voting goes through May 2.
The City Council could lose its lone woman, with Donna Albus vacating her Place 3 seat after two terms. Two women are seeking to succeed her – two-time candidate Cynthia Alvidrez and newcomer Shawnte Fleming. If elected, Fleming would be the first Black woman on the council.
The council has seated a woman since the election of Kathy Webster in 1977, with only one lull. That came in 2015, when Place 6 representative Kellie Miller stepped off the council and Steve Savage was elected in a special election.
Albus was elected two years later.
Alvidrez and Fleming face two opponents in their bids.
Current Councilman Weldon Hurt is leaving Place 4 in hopes of taking the mayor’s reins from Anthony Williams. Williams, the city’s first Black mayor, is ending 22 years in city government. Since officials first were elected in 1883, no other Abilenian has served longer.
Williams followed the city’s longest-serving mayor, Norm Archibald, who led from 2004-17. He joined the council in 2000, giving him 17 years in city government.
More history was made when Travis Craver was elected to the council in 2019. That put two Black representatives on the council at the same time for the first time.
Three on three
Intended or not, this year’s city race features a grouping of three candidates against another trio – one candidate of each side in each race.
If these candidates tossed their hats into a virtual boxing ring, three candidates don .their political boxing gloves to stand in one corner and three in the other.
In one corner are Hurt, Place 3 candidate Blaise Regan and Place 4 hopeful Brian Yates. They represent local business interests.
Hurt and his family have owned Pest Patrol since 1992. Regan is an attorney who lives and works downtown. Retired from the Air Force, Yates for a time worked for the Abilene Chamber of Commerce and Abilene Aero. He currently is retired, though he has plans to pursue affordable housing through a single-member LLC (limited liability company).
All three are promoting economic growth as the force that will propel Abilene forward. They are supportive of the Development Corporation of Abilene and believe the monthly maintenance fee has been effective in addressing city streets.
If they were wearing the red-state crimson boxing trunks of conservative candidates, those pale to their opponents.
In the other corner are three candidates who, in varying degrees, have ministerial roles.
Mayoral candidate Ryan Goodwin was a full-time Methodist minister for years and now has a part-time, volunteer role at a local church. Place 3 hopeful James Sargent, who lost a council bid last spring, is a volunteer in prison ministry. Goodwin is in real estate while Sargent operates an auto repair business.
Place 4 candidate Scott Beard is pastor of Fountaingate Fellowship, a position he has held for 31 years.
He was a visible leader of the successful 2022 effort to make Abilene a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” announcing his council candidacy the same month the proposed ordinance passed by a 53% margin.
All three have weighed in as to what books are in public libraries, an issue that roiled local waters in 2022. Goodwin, in particular, spoke up against books that were deemed by a group of residents to be pornographic and/or inappropriate for young and teen readers.
As candidates, the three have stated they are not seeking to ban these books but relocate them in the library.
Their effort last year led the city, council and library staff to remove a particular book in question, revamp the library advisory board and provide a library card that restricts the access of minors. Still, the city placed final responsibility with parents and guardians.
During the election spring, Abilene has sprouted groupings of Hurt-Regan-Yates signs and collections of Goodwin-Sargent-Beard signs.
This is a change for Abilene, known as the buckle of the Bible belt and for “having a church on every corner.”
After the first weeks of the pandemic in 2020, local businessmen pushed back at state-mandated shutdowns and restrictions. It was important for the city to get back to business, they said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where Abilene voters come out on this,” McMurry University political science professor Paul Fabrizio said. “I realize the election is not a direct referendum on social issues versus business issues, but the alignment of the candidates suggests that voters will have clear choices in all three of these races.”
What about the other four candidates?
Alvidrez previously ran for Abilene ISD board and against Williams for mayor in 2020.
She has been a constant critic of the city and how it spends taxpayer money – from roads to its recreation centers. She believes business should come to Abilene on its own and not have to be bribed – her word – by the DCOA.
She is against Hurt for mayor because, as a council member, he is frivolous with his spending votes, she states in a Facebook interview.
Fleming was instrumental in launching the community outreach nonprofit Let US Breathe Abilene in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd that year. She has been a proponent of the Stevenson Park area. She is an Abilene High graduate who has stayed here and become a business owner.
She has clearly stated that Abilene needs a woman on the council.
Dasi Reddy, a native of India, moved to Abilene in 2008. He is a semi-retired businessman.
As to where he falls in the business vs. morality showdown, Reddy has promoted business and often criticized the city for overspending and its leaders individually for benefiting from projects. He has called the city unsafe, going as far to say that the current crime rate would have kept him out of Abilene 15 years ago.
Yet, he has vowed to give back 15 years of service to the city.
“Abilene needs change,” he said.
At one forum, Clark offered his support for the city and business. Formerly in the Air Force, he leaned on his view that City Council meeting times should be later in the day to allow more people to attend and their viewpoints heard.
ABILENE CITY COUNCIL
- Mayor: Ryan Goodwin, Weldon Hurt, Dasi Reddy and write-in candidate Chad Clark
- Place 3: Cynthia Alvidrez Shawnte Fleming, Blaise Regan and James Sargent
- Place 4: Scott Beard and Brian Yates
WYLIE ISD BOARD
- Place 1: Jud Beall and Laura Donaway
- Place 4: Brad Hill (unopposed)
- Place 5: Blaise Herberg and Megan Stephenson