Clad in sophisticated rodeo wear and sitting in a spacious back room of Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum, Mayor Mike Moncrief looked deeply introspective as he mulled over his answers to a string of personal questions. While Crayola might describe the color of his blazer as “Texas chestnut,” the rich hue was not the only stand-out aspect of the mayor’s appearance that day. A single golden Stock Show & Rodeo pin resting neatly on his left lapel seemed to sum up Moncrief in perfectly simple terms: “This Thing is Legendary.”
After more than 30 years in the business of politics, the mayor has garnered many reputations, from passionate public servant to big business advocate. With public appearances, like the one he made at this year’s Stock Show and Rodeo, and city programs like Directions Home, a homelessness aid and prevention plan, it is no wonder people know Moncrief so well.
While he says his role as Fort Worth’s mayor will be his last in public service, it is doubtful Moncrief’s story will end there.
“In this particular job, in this city, former mayors are not just forgotten about and walk off into the sunset,” Moncrief said. “They are very much a part of how a city continues to grow. Hopefully (I will) always have the reputation of caring about the least of us and the most of us in this community.”
Before becoming Fort Worth’s mayor in 2003, Moncrief’s reputation as an advocate for the disadvantaged was already well-established. His time in both the Texas Senate and House of Representatives was marked by involvement in less popular, and according to him, more fulfilling legislative causes such as mental health, elderly care, and drug and child abuse. The usually eloquent Moncrief struggled to find the appropriate words as he recounted his time as state senator tackling child abuse legislation.
“I can’t even describe what it was – you just can’t imagine how (badly) people can treat children who are dependent upon them for protection and direction,” Moncrief said.
It was also during his dozen years of service in the Texas Senate that Moncrief said he experienced his most trying moment as a policy maker. As part of the Senate Interim Committee on Domestic Violence in 1994, he presided over statewide hearings of spousal and familial abuse.
“It’s exhausting physically and emotionally,” he said. “I’d reached that saturation point where I…had been the sponge that soaked up so many tears and fears. My capacity to absorb was beyond my ability to do any more. I cried, I sobbed, I cussed and I unloaded. I had to catch my breath, and I had to recharge my batteries.”
The mayor credited his wife, Rosie, and his faith in God as his two most important sources of strength in such difficult times. Moncrief also recognized City Council members and his staff as a talented and creative group of people with whom he said he is honored to work with. This appreciation for those around him has earned Moncrief a reputation as a quintessentially down-to-earth and diplomatic public figure among staffers, including his chief of staff, Shirley Little.
“He has an innate ability to connect with people, and I don’t think that’s something that you can teach people,” Little said. “He cares deeply about people. When he comes into the building, he is talking to the receptionist as well as the marshal downstairs…that’s who he is.”
Beth Ellis, the mayor’s administrative assistant, said she remembers when Moncrief purchased a laptop for a once-homeless young man attending Tarrant County College who was the first in his family to do so. She said actions like that stand out not only for the compassion they embody, but also for the lack of publicity surrounding them.
“He does these little tiny things that he doesn’t want a pat on the back (for) – he doesn’t want people to know that he does this stuff, but it made a difference,” Ellis said.
While both Little and Ellis have been part of Moncrief’s staff since the beginning of his seven-year tenure as mayor, City of Fort Worth public information officer Jason Lamers joined the office later in December 2005.
As part of his job, Lamers said he often works with the mayor on responding to public criticisms of policy decisions. Most recently, local media have had especially harsh words to say about Moncrief regarding the installation of gas drilling wells in Fort Worth, he said.
Lamers said a closer look at mineral rights regulations would uncover the rarely reported truth surrounding the wells-within-city-limits situation.
“(Gas companies) wouldn’t be here if people didn’t sell their mineral rights,” Lamers said. “It’s literally against the law for us to stop them. If people want to stop it, they should go to state legislators to get Texas law changed.”
During the summer of 2009, junior political science major Shea Pearson worked as an intern in Moncrief’s office and remembered the mayor’s unique brand of humor during one his first council meetings. In the session, the cell phone of the manager of the Fort Worth Cats baseball team began to vibrate near Pearson and continued to do so until the end of the meeting. Afterward, Moncrief “lectured” Pearson on professional etiquette.
“Finally, after the meeting the guy apologized for it, but the mayor kind of did a practical joke and pulled me aside and gave me a straight conversation,” Pearson said. “Then (he) told me that he was joking and knew it was the other guy’s phone (all along).”
This ability to maintain an amiable nature, even during times of stress and seriousness, has marked the mayor’s career and become a part of his long-held approach to being a public figure. Moncrief advises other politicians to avoid making themselves the exception to any rule. Public officials live in a glass house, he said, and the citizens of Fort Worth are entitled to information concerning their conduct.
“If someone who is thinking about getting into public service can’t withstand that kind of scrutiny, get out and let someone who can,” Moncrief said.