Delgado: St. George backers are ‘Baton Rouge Taliban’

Organizers promoting the city of St. George demanded an apology Wednesday from East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado, who, in a Facebook thread, compared the group with al-Qaida and called the organizers terrorists.

Delgado — one of the most outspoken opponents of creating the proposed new city — refused to apologize Wednesday and instead called the group the “Baton Rouge Taliban.”

The Facebook thread originated on Councilman Ryan Heck’s page, where he applauded the recent legislative efforts to reform the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

“What say you, John Delgado?” Heck wrote in the post late Tuesday night, tagging his colleague on the council. “Had it not been for the pressure applied by the St. George effort, do you think we’d have gotten so far, so fast?”

Delgado responded, “I’m saying that thanking Norman Browning (co-chairman of the St. George incorporation effort) and his ilk for any changes that occur to our education system is like thanking Al Qaeda for improving our airport security measures. I don’t thank people that try to destroy our community. I condemn them for the terrorists that they are.”

The official St. George Twitter account posted a screen shot Wednesday morning of Delgado’s statements and demanded a public apology, adding the hashtags #911 and #NYC to remind people of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“To compare a group of citizens who are fighting to better their community, to better their schools, to a terrorist group who murdered thousands of Americans is repugnant and unacceptable,” said St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey. “How anyone could say anything this insensitive and hate-filled is beyond us.”

Rainey said Delgado owed an apology to the St. George incorporation committee and its volunteers as well as to anyone who knew someone who died in the Sept. 11 attack and to anyone serving in the U.S. military.

But in a phone call Wednesday, Delgado said St. George organizers have “threatened the city with economic collapse for more than six months.”

“They’re instilling fear for the purpose of getting what they want, that’s a terrorist,” Delgado said. “They’re the Baton Rouge Taliban.”

Asked about the fairness of comparing the St. George incorporators with groups who have killed Americans, Delgado responded the St. George effort threatens Baton Rouge lives.

“I believe that we have shown that police protection and fire protection will be cut by 25 percent (if St. George is created),” Delgado said. “You don’t think that affects lives? I suggest to you that it does. They’re putting people’s lives in danger with their foolish pride.”

Delgado’s comments generated a wave of backlash throughout the day with some of his colleagues and political allies criticizing his comments.

Mayor-President Kip Holden, who also opposes the St. George incorporation effort, issued a statement discouraging name-calling.

“I regret that the St. George issue has resulted in unnecessary name-calling and not a discussion of the issues,” he said. “As you know, I have voiced my opinion on the separation. I encourage all parties to engage in civil discourse. We are all Americans and should respect diverse views without name-calling.”

Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he was personally insulted by Delgado’s comments and would be asking for a public apology at the end of the next Metro Council meeting.

“My son is in the Navy and my wife is a Blue Star Mother; it’s a subject close to my heart,” Amoroso said. Blue Star Mothers of America is an organization of mothers of children who are serving or have served in the U.S. military.

“There are young men who are very much wounded today, coming back from Afghanistan, and for John Delgado to compare supporters of St. George to the enemy of the United States, and the people directly responsible for 9/11, well I’m pretty emotional about it,” Amoroso said.

The Committee for Progress, a citizens group that supports East Baton Rouge Parish school reform and opposes the formation of a city of St. George, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon condemning Delgado’s statements.

The statement applauded recent legislation, crafted by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to reform the school system and commended Norman Browning and other St. George incorporators for being vocal about improving schools.

“We do not commend public statements by public officials that compare the right to petition one’s government to terrorism, al Qaeda, or the Taliban, especially when those targeted by these comments served in our nation’s armed forces,” the statement said. “In short, cool it and let’s work this out for our children and schools.”

Browning spent four years of active duty in the U.S. Army.

St. George organizers are attempting to create the fifth municipality in East Baton Rouge Parish, and second-largest next to Baton Rouge. The proposed city would be populated by about 107,000 people. The creation of the new city hinges on a petition that needs 18,000 signatures from registered voters in the boundaries, which would put the proposal to a vote of the people within the proposed city.

But opponents say St. George could have a devastating impact on East Baton Rouge Parish’s financial stability by diverting sales taxes away from the parish budget to fund the new city.

A study by LSU economist Jim Richardson found the new city would create a budget shortfall of $53 million for the parish. But St. George organizers say they plan to pay the city for parish services, so the shortfall would be closer to $14 million.