Southern hosts debate
by rebekah allen
Advocate staff writer
October 02, 2012
In one of the feistiest mayoral candidates’ debates yet, Mayor-President Kip Holden and Metro Councilman Mike Walker attacked each other’s records in office as they detailed their plans to fight crime in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Walker was often in a defensive posture as he was grilled by his opponents and some students about how often he goes to north Baton Rouge and about his plan to fund an around-the-clock misdemeanor jail, which was described by one student as apotential “witch hunt.”
“Here’s a guy who tonight is one of the few times he ever visited Scotlandville,”Holden said about Walker, who lives in the southeast part of the parish.
Holden, a Democrat, lives in Scotlandville and received both a master’s degree and law degree from Southern University. The mayor earned his bachelor’s degree from LSU.
The debate, moderated by WRKF newscaster Jim Engster and hosted at Southern University, also featured lawyer Steve Myers, no party.
The fourth candidate for mayor-president, Gordon Mese, also no party, did not attend because he had a death in the family.
A student asked Walker how many times he had been to Southern in the past year and Walker responded curtly,“I don’t know how many times, and that is my answer.”
Walker, a Republican, said Holden is in denial of admitting there is a crime emergency and dismissed Holden’s plans to fight crime by providing programs for the poor.
“If poverty is responsible for crime, then how come homicides have increased 35 percent, but poverty remains the same,Walker said.
Holden, a former longtime legislator and former councilman, again characterized Walker as someone who was capitalizing on Baton Rouge’s crime problem to run for office.
“Ask yourself, if this guy has been on the council for 12 years and then all of a sudden he’s got an idea for crime, like he’s Superman for crime, then where was he for the 12 other years?”Holden asked. “He was in the lost and found section until it came time to run for mayor.”
Walker countered that Holden has done nothing to help the north Baton Rouge economy.
“If the mayor has done so much for you, then why do you have to go to Baker to get your groceries?”Walker asked to applause, noting the lack of grocery stores in the area.
The Scotlandville neighborhood is generally bounded on the north by Blount Road and Scenic Highway, on the west by the Mississippi River, on the south by Harding Boulevard and on the east by Elm Grove Garden Drive. North Baton Rouge is traditionally bounded by Airline Highway on the north and east, the Mississippi River on the west and Florida Boulevard on the south.
Walker, on several occasions touted his plan to fund an around-the-clock misdemeanor jail to solve the problem of the 160,000 misdemeanor warrants in the parish.
Walker said holding people accountable for small crimes sends a message that the parish is intolerant to all crime.
Holden, who is seeking his third term as mayor-president, said the misdemeanor jail wastes law enforcement officers time with things like parking tickets and expired licenses plates.
“Pay your parking ticket,” Holden warned the audience.“Because if this regime gets in, I can tell you you’re going to be locked up for just about anything. They don’t look at the law.”
Myers, who said he thinks there are “too many laws” on the books, said many of the 160,000 misdemeanor warrants are “a bunch of bologna.”
Myers is defending himself in misdemeanor prosecution for renting a home to three unrelated students, which is a violation of city-parish ordinances.
“There’s too many laws,” Myers said. “Put the criminals in jail.”
A Southern student asked Walker if his misdemeanor jail would unfairly target working-class black people and other minorities.
Walker said the majority of people do not go to jail because they pay their fines.
Each candidate was also asked how they were personally affected by crime.
Holden said he grew up in a “broken home,” wrought with domestic abuse.
The mayor recalled that his father once took a 12-gauge shot gun and shot back toward the house, “trying to kill my mama.”
Holden also said his mother was shot in the stomach by a drug dealer, who was hiding in their house.
The mayor said he will continue to fight crime because he has seen it “from all aspects.”
“I don’t want to see kids go through what I went through,” said Holden, adding that his plan for attacking crime includes providing children work opportunities to teach children a better route.
For example, Holden said, the city-parish is working with the Epicurean Society, which is teaching students culinary arts, Electronic Arts is taking in students to test video games, and the film industry has agreed to teach middle school students camera and production skills.
Walker said his immediate solutions include putting more officers on the street, funding the misdemeanor jail and creating a 50-officer reserve unit.
Myers said he did not believe that putting more police officers on the streets would solve the crime problem.
“What do John F. Kennedy Jr., Robert Kennedy, Huey P. Long and Abraham Lincoln all have in common?”Myers asked. “They were all surrounded with security and they still got shot.”
Myers said the parish can only reduce its crime by improving economic and educational opportunities.
“It has to be more profitable to have a real job than it is to sell drugs and commit crimes,”Myers said. “Why do we have an economy where there’s so little hope.”
Editor’s note: This article was edited on Oct. 2 to correct the call letters of the radio station for the debate moderator.