East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden officially announced his bid for a third term Tuesday before an audience of about 100 supporters.
In his hour-long remarks at the Renaissance Hotel, Holden highlighted his accomplishments during the past 71/2 years, outlined his priorities for his final term and responded to recent criticisms from his best-known opponent, Metro Councilman Mike Walker.
Holden stressed to the audience that crime continues to be his top priority, while reminding them that statistically, violent crime is down from recent years.
“Supporting Baton Rouge police and first responders will always be our top priority,” he said.
Holden listed several initiatives to further curb crime, including Operation BRAVE, a police program targeting ZIP code 70805 that began this week; the Truancy Center, which will open in August; a cold case DNA program; and a recent budget supplement his office proposed that will fund a new police academy and other law enforcement needs.
Holden said serious crime in Baton Rouge has dropped eight of the past 11 years, and has declined by 30 percent since 2000.
“These are the official statistics collected by the FBI, and you’ll notice they don’t sound like the campaign rhetoric you’ve heard from those who don’t mind tearing our city down for political gain,” he said.
Holden said the mayor-president is also responsible for balancing spending for public safety with ensuring the budget is strong. He noted that the city-parish has not laid off or furloughed employees, despite the economic challenges it has faced.
“It’s easy to throw out pie-in-the-sky ideas that cost tens of millions of dollars, but unless you tie them to responsible budgeting and a funding source, we can’t really take them seriously,” he said.
Holden, speaking further after his announcement, described Walker’s nine-step plan to fight crime as financially unrealistic.
“If you go back and look at Mike Walker’s proposal, that laundry list, there’s no city in America that could come up with as many dollars,” he said, adding that Walker has an obligation to tell voters how much his plan would cost taxpayers.
Asked to respond, Walker said police academies should be budgeted first every year, and not “relegated to midyear budget supplements.” He said he is the only candidate that has outlined a written crime-fighting plan for voters to judge.
“After eight years of Kip Holden, all we have to show is Baton Rouge being labeled one of America’s most dangerous cities and a homicide rate on pace to break 100 for the first time in our parish’s history,” Walker said in an e-mailed statement.
The election is Nov. 6. Holden’s opponents include Walker and businessmen John Conroy, Gordon Mese and Jim Mayer.
Holden said he wants to continue the momentum of economic development and job growth of his first two terms.
The mayor called himself a “cheerleader” and the “chief salesman” for Baton Rouge, saying he has a knack for working with company leaders and persuading them to relocate.
“You might even say I ‘kipnotize’ them,” he said, playing on a recent ad by Walker’s campaign that said Holden was trying to “Kipnotize” voters into believing crime isn’t a serious problem.
Holden said he took a direct role in bringing the U.S. Bowling Congress back to Baton Rouge in 2012, got a commitment for Bayou Country Superfest, built up the film industry and lured digital companies like EA Games and Pixomondo — which produced the Oscar-winning movie “Hugo” — to Baton Rouge.
He said those efforts sometimes required him to travel out-of-state.
“Now people are trying to figure out how it is Baton Rouge is getting all of these projects,” Holden said, referring to the growing movie industry. “You don’t get them by staying in your office. You’ve got to go out and hustle.”
Holden noted his accomplishments in improving the community’s infrastructure through such programs as the Green Light Plan, a road improvement plan funded through a half-cent sales tax, and downtown revitalization. He said $92 million has been invested in downtown projects, which has yielded $640 million dollars worth of private investment.
“You can’t be a major city in the U.S., and you can’t compete for jobs, and you can’t bring events to Baton Rouge like we are without a vibrant downtown,” he said. “I certainly make no apologies for the fact that we have one.”
But Holden also said the city-parish needs to address its other infrastructure issues, including its crumbling bridges.
“I don’t want you riding on a bridge that we already know is deficient and then that bridge collapses,” he said.
Holden has made three failed attempts at getting tax-funded capital improvement bond issues passed that would address drainage, traffic signaling and bridges, among others. Two of his proposed bond issues were rejected by voters; the Metro Council declined to put a third bond issue on the ballot.
Holden said in an interview after the announcement that he had a responsibility to inform people of the dangers, but demurred when asked if he was planning to propose another tax.
“If you’re trying to get me to say taxes, I’m not going to, but I’m saying that’s the only option we have,” he said. “I’ve got to be accountable to them as to why and say, ‘Here are our choices. Look at our books, and look at the fact that our bridges are held up by wooden pilings and could be closed within 24 hours if the state decides that.’ ”