East Baton Rouge Parish’s four candidates for mayor-president were in the same room for the first time Thursday night at a forum hosted by the Federation of Baton Rouge Civic Associations.
Mayor-president Kip Holden, Metro Councilman Mike Walker, businessmen Gordon Mese and Steve Myers each were given 20 minutes to present their platforms to a crowd of about 30 people who gathered in a meeting room at BREC’s Tennis Center on Independence Boulevard.
Holden, who was the first to take the podium, opened with a discussion of one of the campaign’s central issues — crime.
“Crime in Baton Rouge is a problem,” the mayor said.
He cited a number of factors that contribute to Baton Rouge’s crime problem, including poverty, breakdown of the traditional family and a lack of education.
Just putting more police on the streets would not solve the problem, though he has proposed holding a police academy next year to add more officers, Holden said.
“Crime takes a holistic approach,” he said. “Education is a basic foundation.”
Blight is also a problem that has to be confronted, he said.
“We have a comprehensive program for dealing with crime,” Holden said.
Holden, a Democrat, also urged residents to think back to 2005 when he took office.
“A lot of places in Baton Rouge needed a lot of things,” he said, citing downtown development and the Green Light Plan as two programs his administration launched to address some of Baton Rouge’s needs.
Holden also said the city-parish has to find a way to address other critical infrastructure needs, such as more than 100 bridges that have low safety ratings.
“We are going to have to take care of these bridges before somebody loses a life,” he said.
Holden left after he finished speaking. The event’s emcee, Nancy Curry, said Holden had another engagement.
Holden’s best-financed challenger, Metro Councilman Mike Walker, focused on crime and was the fourth speaker.
Walker, a Republican, advocated adding 75 new officers to the Baton Rouge City Police Department by the end of next year.
“Spend whatever you got to spend,” he said. “The number one responsibility of every government official is public safety. We are not providing public safety.”
Walker also promised to work to open the misdemeanor jail and to create a reserve force of police officers.
The city should also investigate the idea of forming and running its own “recovery school district,” something he said had been tried in Washington D.C.
Walker said the city must look to create long-term jobs in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries and to fight to make sure sewer fees don’t increase.
“I want to make some changes now,” he said.
Gordon Mese, a No Party candidate who owns the Garden District Nursery, said many of the city’s problems could be traced to the Unified Development Code, or UDC. The UDC is the code that guides land use, development and infrastructure planning.
“The UDC is broken,” he said. “We are building a city on a broken foundation.”
The UDC is “stifling” and aims for the “lowest common denominator” of developer, Mese said.
“If you want to talk about crime, blight, poverty and infrastructure, they all have a connection to this code,” he said.
Lawyer Steve Myers told the group he plans to run what he called a “40-day campaign,” which he said should be plenty of time for voters to make an informed decision in the mayor’s race.
“The flood was 40 days, the Lord and Moses took 40 days to write the Ten Commandments, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert and he figured it out in that period of time and I am submitting that you can as well,” Myers said.
“There is no way you will find out who I am in a five-, 10-, or 15-minute speech,” he said. Instead, Myers said, he will be sending out a daily newsletter by email discussing one issue in the campaign for the 40 days until the election.
The newsletter, which Myers plans to start sending out Sept. 27, will be titled “Myers Message,” he said.
Myers asked the audience to suspend their decision until Election Day.
“There’s a lot more to this election than single issues,” he said. “We want to focus the campaign on a wide range of issues.”
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved