Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker painted a grim picture of East Baton Rouge Parish on Thursday — describing children growing up in broken homes, homeowners afraid to leave their houses and sluggish job growth.
“Quite frankly, we’re not America’s next great city because we’re not safe,” the Republican said at a luncheon meeting at Juban’s Restaurant of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors.
Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, will be the group’s featured speaker Oct. 18.
Walker said Holden, who is seeking his third term, “is a likable guy, but he’s lost his way.”
Two no-party candidates — attorney Steve Myers and businessman Gordon Mese — also are running in the Nov. 6 mayoral election.
Walker took aim at Holden’s record on job creation, saying that unemployment in the parish is 7.9 percent, compared to 5.6 percent in 2009, when Holden took office for his second term.
He also said jobs grew by only 1 percent from July 2011 to July of this year in Baton Rouge, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, he said, Lafayette gained 15,400 jobs in the same time frame, an increase of 10.2 percent.
“If they don’t get paychecks on Friday, then they don’t lease office buildings,” Walker said. “If they don’t get paychecks on Friday, then they may turn to crime.”
Asked for his response to the criticism, Holden said in an emailed statement that Baton Rouge has maintained one of the strongest economies in the country during the national recession. He said the job losses Walker mentioned came from state budget cuts.
“As the seat of state government, we are obviously going to see a higher concentration of cuts to government workers,” Holden said. “Fortunately, our private sector gains have been sufficient to offset these losses.”
Holden said Baton Rouge created more than 5,000 new private sector jobs from July 2011 to July 2012 in the construction, transportation and other trades.
He also cited recent announcements such as Ameritas Technologies IT company bringing 300 software development jobs, Electronic Arts creating 200 new video game development jobs, PreSonus Audio Electronics for 65 new jobs and special effects studio Pixomondo creating 75 new animation jobs.
Walker has said he’d like to refocus the city-parish’s efforts to creating petrochemical and oil industry jobs, whereas Holden has advocated for more technology jobs.
Walker said joblessness and a poor educational system contribute to the growing crime problem.
“We used to be able to work in our front yards … and watch our children ride bikes on the sidewalks,” Walker said. “Ladies could go shopping without their husbands. They could come to their driveways and didn’t have to worry about someone knocking them in the head and taking their purse.”
Walker said when he’s mayor, he would immediately fund another police academy for 75 officers and promised to budget police academies every year. Holden funded a police academy this year for 30 new officers and has said he will have another one next year.
Holden recently criticized Walker’s approach to crime as “one-dimensional” because its primary focus is on putting more officers on the street, whereas Holden said he takes a more holistic approach, focusing on education, poverty and other factors that contribute to crime.
Walker on Thursday compared attacking crime to building a house.
“We’ve got a house we’re trying to build and we got the structure and foundation down,” Walker said. “But the house is on fire. What are you going to do? Keep working on that foundation or are you going to put the fire out?”
Walker also said as mayor-president, he would be more involved with the public school system, noting the high number of D and F schools in the parish.
Walker endorsed the South East Baton Rouge breakaway school district, but said equal attention must be given to the remaining students of the East Baton Rouge Parish School system.
“It’s the right of the people, if they want to form that school district and they can do a good job, they have that right,” he said.
Walker said he’s concerned about children growing up in Baton Rouge.
“You ask a lot of them, ‘What are you going to do with your life,’ and a lot of them just hope to live to be 15,” Walker said. “You got young ladies 13 years of age having babies being born into houses that have no books in them and outside on the street there’s gun fire. Well gosh, what’s their future?”
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved