Election: Much at stake — Bartie, Freeman eye voter turnout
Buoyed by his performance at a political forum this week, Port Arthur mayoral challenger Thurman Bill Bartie says he believes his campaign is picking up steam among a growing number of city voters.
“God has blessed me to attract those not with me from the outset but who believe in me now,” said Bartie, a former justice of the peace, local preacher and businessman. “We could be victorious.”
Bartie finished second among five candidates in May 4 voting. Incumbent Mayor Derrick Freeman finished first, but neither candidate — not Bartie, with 24 percent of the votes, nor Freeman, with 35 percent — secured the 50 percent needed to win outright, triggering the runoff.
Early voting opens Monday for the June 22 runoff election.
Freeman conceded that most of those gathered Thursday night at Strong Tower Ministries were “not my crowd,” but rather likely Bartie voters. Nonetheless, he said, he believes he may have changed some minds during the evening forum, which lasted more than an hour with questions taken from the crowd of more than 100 people.
The forum had some spirited moments, but the two candidates themselves appeared to be agreeable, even posing for part of a “selfie” photo on stage afterward.
Not much new ground was broken Thursday night, nor since the campaigns launched.
Bartie has said from the outset of his campaign, which started in January, that as mayor he would seek to bring all governing entities — the schools, port, commission, drainage district, Sabine Pass and Pleasure Island — “to the table” to develop a plan for city advancement. He repeated that pledge Thursday night.
For his part, Freeman said he was not running on a platform but rather on a “report card”; the city is already exercising its developed plans and he said he was confident that his three-year record as mayor would inspire voter confidence.
Freeman said Motiva Enterprise’s blockbuster announcement in April to relocate office workers to historic buildings in downtown Port Arthur reflects a sea change in how that part of the city is being viewed. Interest in downtown is at a higher peak than it has been for many years.
He said recent developments with Golden Pass LNG rebuilding its site near Sabine Pass as an export facility and Sempra nearing a final decision on building Port Arthur LNG near Golden Pass guarantees jobs for Port Arthur people and revenue for the city. The Port Arthur LNG project would be the first new developed site in decades.
Bartie was less certain. He said that industrial developments here must result in jobs for Port Arthur residents. He said the city needs a compliance officer to make sure that plants getting tax breaks will hire Port Arthur applicants. That was his best applause line Thursday night.
Freeman said Friday that’s happening. He said Valero has pledged more local hires; Motiva, he said, would do the same during talks with the city.
Both men said in separate interviews that the key to final victory rests in voter turnout. Bartie said that although Freeman led balloting May 4, enthusiasts for the other candidates, especially Chuck Vincent of Port Acres and Willie “Bae” Lewis, would not likely support the mayor. But would they turn out for Bartie?
Freeman, who has been elected in two previous runoff campaigns, said he’s collecting more support at this stage than ever before. But with only a third of the voters supporting him May 4, can he hold off Bartie?
Bartie doesn’t believe so. He said Freeman’s supporters have spoken; those who voted against him May 4 are unlikely to consider him on the second round of voting.
Among those who probably won’t support the challenger, Bartie conceded, are the incumbent City Council members.
“I don’t think they will publicly endorse me,” Bartie said. “For various reasons, they are with the mayor. A few publicly made some disparaging remarks about me. If God gives me the opportunity to be elected, I am not going to hold it against them.”
In response to an audience question, Bartie said that he learned from past political setbacks. He was removed from his justice of the peace position for his conduct on the bench; Bartie says he’s learned to control his temper, even when goaded.
Conversely, Freeman said he’s already proven himself to be a voice of conciliation on the City Council, able to keep his calm even during contentious meetings.
He said there’s much as stake in this election — the city needs a public leader who can understand and negotiate complex agreements, like those just completed with Port Arthur LNG and those coming with Motiva.
He said he has five years on the City Council and three more as mayor, which has enhanced his understanding of the job. That’s a lot to learn for a newcomer to the position — Bartie has never served on City Council.
Make a mistake on a long term, industrial development agreement, Freeman said, and it will plague the city for 15 years.