Mayor-President forum produces few surprises
BATON ROUGE - Five people vying to be the next mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish were dealt a round of questions at the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, with some - but not striking differences - emerging from the candidates.
Common themes such as traffic, crime, and early education topped the list of issues named by councilman John Delgado, real estate agent Darryl Gissell, state representative C. Denise Marcelle, former longtime state legislator Sharon Weston-Broom, and state senator Bodi White.
To highlight the similarities, all are in favor of looking for ways to fund an increase in early childhood learning programs but offered no clear path to funding them. The question-answer format did not provide for rebuttals, debate or audience follow-up questions among the five. Often answers on the issues were met with responses like “we must do” or “we have to” in reference to solving area problems.
Always near the top of greater Baton Rouge concerns are traffic and solving a myriad of transportation issues. All candidates were in favor of sales- tax infused projects like the Green Light plan which has focused in the last decade on widening and improving major thoroughfares.
Voters in December will be asked to fund an extension of the project with an additional property tax.
Gissel, who is running as a political outsider, said government currently doesn’t have the trust to get bond issues passed while Democrat Weston-Broome indicated that the city-parish should look at all funding sources - state and local - while not offering specifics. Republican Bodi White called for more planning of future improvements similar to those implemented in Central and Zachary. Marcelle, who was once a member of the EBR Metro Council said she would try take a look at the entire parish as a whole before implementing projects, not specifically saying which areas may have been shortchanged. Councilman Delgado hinted that toll-roads such as the long talked about loop around the city could provide a partial answer.
One area of difference emerged in the area of whether politicians would support building a new or larger jail. Marcelle said no new jail was needed just solutions for keeping non-violent offenders out of lockup. Delgado and Weston-Broome were adamant in their support for a mental health facility and a tax increase necessary to support it. Weston-Broome said she would support a new jail, just not a larger one.
Voters will also be asked in December to support a property millage increase for such a mental health facility.
White didn’t specifically address the tax question, but said that 80 percent of 9-1-1 phone calls were drug and alcohol or domestic related. He suggested evaluating those calls and if they were not medically related, the calls would be diverted to drug or mental health providers.
Also looming is gaging public interest in an election when thousands of area voters are more focused on gutting and repairing properties flooded by August rains. Gissel, who ranks at the lower end of a recent Baton Rouge Area Chamber poll, said he is on the streets every day and lamented that “many people don’t know we have a race”. An election, he added, that will affect most lives for years to come.
Polls suggest no candidate will receive a majority of voters necessary to win the mayor-president race outright. A run-off election would take place on December 8th. Marcelle and Weston-Broom are running as democrats. White and Delgado are on the republican ticket. Gissell has no party affiliation.
The Baton Rouge Press Club limited the forum to candidates who are the top five fundraisers.