East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and Metro Councilman Mike Walker traded barbs before and after sharing a laugh and a hug during a forum for the four mayor candidates Tuesday night.
Gordon Mese and Steve Myers also took part in the forum at the Jones Creek Regional Branch Library in Baton Rouge, which was attended by about 50 people. It was hosted by the Jones Creek Area Business Association.
Holden and Walker traded shots in their opening statements.
“There is no criminologist or anyone who has been fighting crime for a while that will tell you that by putting more officers on the streets you will solve the problem,” said Holden, who went first, alluding to one of Walker’s main campaign points.
Holden said poverty, truancy and broken families are key contributors to the crime rate that must be addressed.
Holden said his administration had launched several initiatives to reduce crime, pointing specifically to the BRAVE project, a violence-reduction program focused on the 70805 ZIP code and modeled after the nationally lauded Operation Ceasefire.
Walker, who went fourth in opening statements, said Holden has not fulfilled the first duty of a public servant.
“The No. 1 responsibility of all public officials is public safety,” he said. “I think Mayor Holden has forgotten that.”
Walker said calling poverty a cause of crime was an “unfair stereotype.”
“Ninety-eight percent of the people with modest means don’t commit crimes,” Walker said. “They want protection from criminals just like everyone else.”
He said one of the first acts of his administration would be to give the Baton Rouge Police Department funding for 75 new officers.
Holden criticized Walker for saying he would not be in favor of new taxes to fight crime by pointing out that Walker chaired a Metro Council committee tasked with studying raising taxes to support the sheriff and the district attorney.
“Later, when it’s convenient to hear ‘I am not for higher taxes,’ that’s what you hear coming out,” Holden said of Walker.
Holden’s comment later in the meeting that light synchronization was part of his plan to improve traffic in Baton Rouge prompted an immediate response from Walker.
“First thing, I don’t want to hear anything else about spending millions of dollars on light synchronization,” Walker said to applause from the crowd.
The two shared a lighter moment at one point after Holden responded to a question about the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s financial accountability to the city-parish.
The chamber receives $500,000 each year from the city-parish to promote economic development.
“There’s a lot of transparency,” Holden said. “Every year they present a report to the council detailing every thing they do.”
Moderator Bill Profita directed the question next to Walker, who said simply, “He’s right.”
Then, as the audience laughed and applauded, the two political combatants got up from their seats on opposite sides of the podium and shook hands and hugged.
Gordon Mese, who was next to respond, said, “I think we have just seen proof of the existence of God,” prompting more laughs.
Mese landed a shot of his own in his closing, when he characterized Walker as a “dead horse” who has no chance to win the election.
Mese called himself and Steve Myers “long shots who might have a big payout.”
Myers asked the crowd to suspend awarding their vote until they have a chance to read some of his daily newsletters, which he plans to begin sending out Thursday.
Myers fears the loss of property rights and civil liberties, something he vowed to fight.
Myers also played the first verse of his campaign song, which encourages Myers to “give ’em hell.”
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