On Friday morning, citizens gathered in front of the Fort Worth City Hall to pray and support the newest mayoral candidate, Steve Penate. “We’re claiming this city back to the citizens,” a supporter said.

Seven names are now on the ballot in the May 1 mayoral race. Penate, the latest entrant, is a businessman and a founding pastor of Mercy Culture Church. He’s also involved with Justice Reform, a nonprofit organization helping women trapped in sex trafficking.

When Penate arrived to officially file his candidacy, he was met by a crowd of citizens who prayed for him and expressed their support.

“I think we’re in a place where we’re all kind of sick of the establishment and the political games that people play,” Fort Worth resident Kenya Alu replied when asked why she supports Penate. “I’m looking for someone who isn’t from that mold, and Steve is that guy.”

“I know as a person, he is someone who is unwavering and someone who we would trust to lead us,” said another citizen.

“Steve wants to know what you want—what is it that you want in the city,” Earl Burrell said. “I think that’s a tremendous thing for people to get behind and realize they have a voice in what goes on here in Fort Worth.”

After filing, Penate emerged from city hall to cheers from those gathered. He thanked them for their support before laying out his vision and promises.

“I have a vision for families,” he said. “I am going to fight for small businesses here in Fort Worth, Texas.”

As Texas and Fort Worth are still under government mandates in response to the Chinese coronavirus, questions remain about when the city will fully reopen.

“I’m like, what the heck, why aren’t we reopened already?” Alu asked. “I am worried about many businesses in Fort Worth that won’t reopen.”

Penate also mentioned the relationship between law enforcement and citizens.

“I believe that we can create a climate here in Fort Worth of mutual respect with our law enforcement and one another as citizens,” he continued.

Before he spoke, his supporters were asked about their concerns for the city.

“I’m a real estate agent, so property taxes is a huge one because I see people affected by it every single day, including myself,” Alu said. “The money that they’re collecting, we aren’t even seeing it.” She added small businesses and education are also among her top concerns.

“The budget just needs to make sense,” said a citizen named Shawn. “The allocation of money, time, and effort—it needs to reflect all the people that live here.”

During his speech, Penate said he would serve citizens and their needs, not his own.

“I am not a politician,” he exclaimed. “I am not part of the establishment.”

“I am a citizen just like you, who deeply loves Fort Worth, who passionately loves people,” he continued. “That’s why I stand on my promises.”

“My first allegiance will always be to God,” he said. “I will not bend the knee to the pressure. I will not bend the knee to the rhetoric on the streets that want to cause division. We are a united people in Fort Worth.”

Penate joins Mayor Betsy Price’s former chief of staff Mattie Parker, Councilmembers Brian Byrd and Ann Zadeh, Democratic County Chair Deborah Peoples, as well as Chris Rector and Mike Haynes in the race.

He has never served in office before.

“I’m so done with these career people who make decisions based on who owes them favors,” Alu said. “It’s never about people like us.”

“I’m not going to say that I’m anti-establishment 100 percent,” Shawn said. “But I think we need real people leading real people.”

“We’re claiming this city back to the citizens of Fort Worth,” Burrell added. “They make the difference. They make the decision.”

The candidate filing deadline for mayor and city council positions in the May 1 election is February 12. Candidate filings and finance reports may be tracked at the city secretary’s elections website.

This article has been updated since publication.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.