• 72°

Thurman Bill Bartie topples Freeman in Saturday runoff for Port Arthur mayor

Former Justice of the Peace Thurman Bill Bartie defeated incumbent Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman, who lost his bid for a second term, on Saturday.

Complete but unofficial results showed Bartie with 1,883 votes and Freeman with 1,592.

“I praise God for being given the opportunity to be a leader in this community again,” Bartie said Saturday evening. “I don’t take it lightly. For whatever reason he chose me. I will roll up my sleeves to work with the present council. I thank Mayor Freeman for his tenure and thank his family for allowing him to serve. And I wish blessings on his future.”

Early voting and absentee voting results, revealed Saturday night, showed Bartie with 54 percent of those ballots cast, giving him a lead of 212 votes heading into Saturday’s runoff election day.

Turnout appeared to be light around most of the city with the exceptions of the Port Arthur Public Library and Tyrrell Elementary School.

“I’m out of energy right now,” said Bartie as he reviewed results of early voting and his apparent healthy lead. “I don’t know what to say.”

Bartie ran on a campaign of starting anew in city government, and pledged to bring all stakeholders in the city together to find a new plan to move the city ahead.

Freeman, who led the city through Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey recovery since the city flooded in August 2017, had sought a second, consecutive three-year term.

Freeman had planned a lengthy to-do list for that second and final term, including continuing to promote downtown’s rebirth. Motiva Enterprises in April announced plans to buy at least two decrepit but landmark downtown buildings and move up to 500 office workers to the largely moribund downtown area. That might have given the mayor a perceived boost just prior to the election.

But voters, many angry because of the slow pace of recovery, apparently had other ideas. Voters complained about bad roads, poor infrastructure and dire housing needs.

In addition to his single term as mayor, Freeman has served on the Port Arthur City Council since 2011.

Among the city’s front-burner needs is completion of an industrial revenue agreement with Motiva Enterprises, advancing additional disaster recovery from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey and making certain that the city successfully completes the 2020 Census with a population count over 50,000, which is an important benchmark for obtaining federal funds.

With the 7 p.m. Saturday voting conclusion approaching, Bartie, 64, said he’d left “no stone unturned” in the effort to generate votes. He’d maximized efforts for mass media and social media, made phone calls, walked neighborhoods and attended church services and anywhere else he could find a crowd of Port Arthur people.

“We did it all,” he said — including prayer, which he said he was doing with minutes remaining in Saturday voting.

Freeman, 43, also said he “left it all out on the field,” maximizing his efforts to win a second term and keeping his support from the General Election on May 4 to the runoff.

“We feel like our voters came back out,” he said.

Both voters concluded their campaigns at the Port Arthur Public Library on Saturday, which appeared to be the busiest voting box.

Freeman finished first among five candidates in the May 4 General Election with 35 percent of the vote. Bartie, a funeral director and pastor who previously served as a justice of the peace, took second with 24 percent to earn his place in Saturday’s runoff.

Other candidates included Chuck Vincent, former Councilmember Willie “Bae” Lewis and educator Lowra Harrison.