Fighting crime, sewer project dominate mayoral forum
“I am a crime-fighting guy. ... You need police protection 24-7-365.” Mike walker, Baton Rouge Metro councilman
The two best-funded candidates in the Baton Rouge mayoral race squared off for the second time in three days at a forum on Thursday, with crime and the parish’s sewer upgrade project dominating the debate.
Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, and Metro Councilman Mike Walker, a Republican, participated in the luncheon forum, which was hosted by the Baton Rouge Apartment Association and held at the Oak Lodge Reception Center on Sherwood Forest Boulevard.
The association limited participants to mayoral candidates who had raised at least $20,000 in campaign funds by the most recent filing deadline. As a result, neither Gordon Mese or Steve Myers, both of whom are running as no-party candidates, took part in the forum.
In his remarks, Holden referred to comments about reducing crime East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark made recently in an article in The Advocate about attacking crime by combating poverty, truancy and broken homes.
“He mentioned the same things that I mentioned that you have to do,” Holden said. “Make it a 365-day effort.”
Walker also quoted Clark at a forum Tuesday hosted by the Jones Creek Business Association.
“I was at the news conference at Café Americain with Dr. Beau Clark,” Walker said.
“It was also written in the paper that what Dr. Beau Clark said about crime is exactly what’s in my brochure that I have been saying since I started this campaign.”
Walker stressed the need to put more “boots on the ground,” something he said Clark had also talked about in his interview.
“I am a crime-fighting guy,” Walker said.
Walker noted that eight neighborhoods had attempted during the most recent legislative session, to create crime prevention districts, in which residents accept higher taxation in return for more patrols.
“They have put a tax on themselves, he said. “The people are crying out, the people are saying we want more police officers.”
In response to a question about reducing crime in Tigerland, Holden said the Police Department could move special units into the area for special patrols, but Walker said that would be insufficient.
“You need police protection 24-7-365,” he said.
Walker also said opening the misdemeanor jail would help reduce crime.
“Look up the word misdemeanor,” Holden said. “If you have not paid a parking ticket, they want you arrested … It’s not a felony.”
Walker also took aim at the city-parish’s Sanitary Sewer Overflow program, which he said had grown from a $600 million project to one that may cost more than $1.3 billion or more.
The SSO program is funded by a half-cent sales tax and monthly sewer fees.
“We feel that we have been ‘kipnotized’ into building two Cadillacs when we should be building a Chevrolet,” Walker said.
Walker acknowledged that he and the council bear responsibility for allowing the program to grow.
“I don’t think we have investigated it thoroughly like we are right now,” he said. “We have listened to people that I think have been giving us bad advice.”
Walker called it a “mistake.”
Walker also said that the sewer program had no end-date.
When Holden came to the podium, he pointed at Walker.
“The sewer fee was increased before I became mayor,” he said. “I didn’t do that. My opponent was there, and you never heard anything in 12 years, about how bad the sewer fee is.”
During closing statements, Walker attempted to strike a conciliatory tone.
“You have got two gentlemen up here that are really nice gentlemen,” he said. “You have got two gentlemen that have been involved in city-parish government all our lives, it seems like.”
But, the election presents a clear choice, Walker said.
“Do you want to do something now or do you want to do something later,” he said. “I say crime is a fire and it has to be put out.”
Holden called Walker’s views misaligned.
“He has a different view, but it’s off center,” he said.