Inside Report: St. George battle from other eyes

“Baton Rouge’s Rich Want New Town to Keep Poor Pupils Out.”

“Latest Secession Attempt: Baton Rouge’s Richer Side.”

“Affluent, white residents of south Baton Rouge propose seceding from city’s poor, black northern areas.”

Those are just a few of the national headlines recently written about the effort to create a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish. Several others have followed the narrative: white vs. black, rich vs. poor.

During the launch for the “Better Together” anti-St. George campaign, organizer Dianne Hanley said the issue that has pushed St. George outside of the parish’s, and even Louisiana’s borders: the wealth and racial divide between the city of Baton Rouge and the proposed city of St. George.

“This is also about values,” Hanley said, detailing the reasons for opposition to the city’s creation. “What is the national and international image we want?”

An impact study commissioned by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Area Foundation found St. George would be about 70 percent white, 23 percent black and 4 percent Asian, while Baton Rouge is about 55 percent black, 40 percent white and 3 percent Asian. The proposed city also would have a mean household income $30,000 higher than Baton Rouge’s — from about $59,000 in Baton Rouge’s city limits to $89,000 in St. George.

But the pro-St. George campaign says the national reports playing up demographics distort the movement’s message and intent.

“Multiple national blogs and media outlets have portrayed this movement as a group of wealthy white citizens looking to secede from ‘poor, black’ Baton Rouge. Nothing could be further from the truth,” supporters wrote in an online response that doubled as a plea for financial support for the campaign.

“Race baiting is what people do when they have no logical argument left and need to sell newspapers or generate traffic to their website. … St. George is about creating a safe, modern, efficiently run city and a world class, globally competitive school system.”

The response doesn’t appear to have softened the negative national attention, and it’s likely that even more will come as the campaign progresses, particularly if supporters manage to get the 18,000 signatures needed to get St. George’s incorporation on a ballot.

A recent article from Bloomberg.com, headlined “Baton Rouge’s Rich Want New Town to Keep Poor Pupils Out,” focuses on the potential impact to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system if St. George becomes its own city and forms its own school district.

In December, an article ran on USA Today’s website under the headline “Latest Secession Attempt: Baton Rouge’s Richer Side.” It describes the incorporation push as “the largely wealthy and white southern part of Baton Rouge moving to secede and become the city of St. George” and claims the effort would split the city of Baton Rouge in half to create a new, whiter city.

A similar article ran in the U.K.’s Daily Mail as “A tale of two cities: Wealthy white residents of Baton Rouge launch campaign to split from poorer black areas to form their own breakaway city.” It also heavily implies that the St. George push is an effort to carve out a piece of Baton Rouge proper.

In reality, St. George is an unincorporated area adjacent to, not inside of, Baton Rouge’s city limits .

Elizabeth Crisp covers East Baton Rouge parish government for The Advocate. Contact her at ecrisp@theadvocate.com or follow her on Twitter at @elizabethcrisp or Facebook at facebook.com/ECrispReporter. Read The Advocate’s new City Hall Buzz blog at www.blogs.theadvocate.com/ CityHallBuzz.