By Ashley Moss
The Rev. Michael Evans, a longtime civic leader and educator, became the first African American mayor of Mansfield on December 8th, after he ran a campaign pledging to refrain from dirty politics and to build unity in the city.
“To God be the glory,” said Evans, who is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, late Tuesday night after the election was declared for him. “We’re Mansfield strong,” he said.
According to unofficial results, Evans earned 53.84 percent of the ballots cast in Tarrant County while his opponent Brent Newsom earned 46.16 percent, according to unofficial election results provided to Texas Metro News by Belinda Willis, director of communications and marketing for the city of Mansfield.
Evans claimed the historic win after building a multi-racial coalition of supporters and campaigning for nearly a year.
“I’d attribute the win to the grassroots effort of folks who came to work together,” he said after the polls closed Tuesday. “We refused to attack the other campaign. We handled our business.”
Evans, who previously served several years on the Mansfield school board, won more than 4,700 votes to Newsom’s roughly 4,000 votes. About 8,800 Mansfield residents cast ballots in Tuesday’s runoff election.
Evans’ supporters gathered at a parking lot late Tuesday night after the polls closed. Drivers stayed in their cars and honked their horns as they listened to singers, church members and others speak about Evans’ leadership and pray for him.
One church member thanked God for Tuesday’s victory during the event which was broadcast by Evans’ campaign on Facebook.
“Thank you now for the man of God who you have placed for such a time as this,” said a man who identified himself only as a church member during his prayer. “God continue to move on his heart. God continue to give him clarity not only on how to lead your people at Bethlehem, but to lead the city of Mansfield.”
While the majority of Mansfield lies in Tarrant County, portions of the city spills into both Ellis and Johnson counties.
In Ellis County, Evans won seven votes while Newsom won a total of five as of 11 pm, according to Ellis County’s official election website. Election results were not immediately available in Johnson County, but ballot numbers were included in the total votes released by Mansfield city officials.
Newsom, who is a Mansfield City Council member and the son of a former Mansfield school superintendent Vernon Newsom, could not be reached late Tuesday for comment. He did not return phone calls left at his campaign office Tuesday night. A message left for him on his personal Facebook page was not immediately responded to.
Evans called Newsom “a fine human being” Tuesday despite being forced to address racially-tinged rumors, apparently from Newsom’s supporters, suggesting that Evans would reduce police funding and support “low-income” housing.
Newsome, who is White, was endorsed by an unnamed law enforcement group, according to his campaign’s website.
Evans posted a video Tuesday hours before the polls closed to his campaign’s Facebook page. He asked voters to ignore the “dog whistling” which he attributed to law enforcement who supported Newsom. Evans said in his post he has worked 27 years for law enforcement.
“Come on guys. Let’s stop the dog whistling,” he said in the video. “Y’all know better than some of the stuff we’re saying. Cut that mess out.”
“Let’s not tell lies. We ain’t doing that—defund the police and low income housing,” he said. “That’s stereotyping. That’s kind of tacky.”
Earlier Tuesday, while campaigning at the Tarrant County Sub-Courthouse on East Broad Street, Newsom denied that race played any factor in Tuesday’s runoff.
“Elections shouldn’t be about race. They should be about Mansfield,” he said. “Whether White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, I’ve not had those conversations (about race).”
Instead, he said, rising taxes are a more pressing concern for Mansfield homeowners.
“My concern is growth and making sure that we manage the property taxes appropriately,” Newsom said Tuesday afternoon. “In our data and research, that’s what everybody says—property taxes.”
Still, some voters said Tuesday’s runoff offered a chance to diversify Mansfield’s all-White city council.
“I’ve lived in Mansfield for 27 years and and I’ve never seen (ethnic) representation,” said Marisela Aramino, 39, a Latina and former teacher in the Mansfield school district. “That’s something that’s important for me and my kids to experience.”
Another voter said she cast her ballot for Evans, an educator who has been among the first African Americans to serve in a number of civic and religious roles across the state, to bring a different voice to city government.
Courtney Hester, 20, a Tarrant County College student who is white, said her vote for Evans was a reflection of her commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’ve lived here since I was eight years old,” she said before casting her ballot at the Tarrant County Sub-Courthouse.
“I’ve been following the work of Black Lives Matter, but I realized if I’m going to preach BLM, that I need to actually get out and be committed to helping and actually supporting Black people.”
Evans and Newsom advanced to the December runoff election after beating a crowded field of candidates during the November 3 primary election. Evans compiled 11,000 votes—or nearly 40 percent of the ballots cast— while Newsom won 8,300 votes—or 30 percent – of ballots cast. Two other candidates, George Fassett and Terry Moore, rounded out the field.
Evans succeeds David Cook, who stepped down from the position last December to run for Texas House of Representatives District 96 seat.
Evans is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the state’s largest organization of Baptist churches. He is one of the first African Americans to serve as president of the predominantly and historically white group of Baptists.
He said in a message three weeks ago to Texas Baptists that Jesus had called his followers to love others.
“I believe we are called to unity in the spirit of love,” Evans said to fellow Baptists during his presidential message delivered virtually to the group. It was reported in an article in the group’s newspaper, The Baptist Standard.
A former U.S. Navy officer, Evans and his congregation built a 135,000 square-foot independent living complex for senior adults in the city.
Evans said he would continue to focus on public safety and lowering property taxes by implementing “smart growth” strategies in the city and region, including inviting affordable housing and master-planned housing developments.
“The answer to the tax problem is embedded in fiscal responsibility and smart economic development that helps to lessen the tax burden on the citizenry.” he said. “A smart growth strategy will drive the economic development plan along with spending priorities that are to be determined after the basic needs of safety, infra-structure upkeep and growth are met.”
He said he would work with all sectors of the citizenry to accomplish those goals.
“We are folks in this city who are coming together because we want the same thing, that’s who we are,” he added. “We have more in common than we do otherwise.”
Texas Metro News editor Valerie Fields Hill contributed to this report.