A jubilant Kip Holden won a third term as East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president in a landslide Tuesday, capturing 60 percent of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Joined by a crowded room of family and friends at the Crowne Plaza, Holden thanked his supporters and promised four more years of progress, job growth and business opportunity.
“Let them know that Baton Rouge, the Red Stick, will be held even higher over the next four years,” Holden said.
Holden enjoyed a healthy lead over his most formidable opponent Councilman Mike Walker, who received 34 percent of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns. Businessman Gordon Mese finished third with 3 percent and attorney Steve Myers finished with 2 percent.
Holden also announced the creation of “Team Baton Rouge,” which challenges residents to take on an issue in the community and get involved.
“We can no longer say that just because that’s not our child, that’s not our relative, that they’re not our responsibility,” Holden said, inviting the public to write him letters and suggestions for ways to improve the community.
In his victory speech, Holden said he was trying to “be nice” about defeating Walker, who has been aggressively attacking the mayor’s record for the past several months.
But Holden said, “We cannot let small minds hold back the progress of the city-parish.”
Likewise, Walker continued to criticize the mayor in his concession speech at the Marriott Hotel.
“This mayor is not going to change,” Walker said adding that Holden has no transparency and expects the council to act as his rubber stamp.
Walker thanked his supporters for helping in his campaign, adding that they helped him come “a long way.”
“We told things just like they are,” he said.
He noted that he is still a councilman until the end of the year, and would focus his attention on the 2013 budget.
Holden, a Democrat, was elected as the parish’s first black mayor-president in 2004 when he defeated incumbent Bobby Simpson with 54 percent of the vote.
He made history again in 2008 when he won a landslide victory with 71 percent of the vote and became the only mayor-president to win a majority in all of the parish’s voting precincts.
Walker, a Republican, launched an aggressive and well-financed campaign in February, focusing on reducing crime by building up the police ranks. In campaign ads and speeches, Walker attacked Holden for failing to protect the public from crime and blamed him for allowing homicides to increase to record levels.
Last week, Walker’s campaign manager Chris Boudreaux said they expected to make it to a runoff with Holden.
Walker, who served as council chairman the last four years, has been a council member for 12 years and is term limited.
Mese, the owner of Garden District Nursery, watched the votes come in with supporters at Phil Brady’s bar on Government Street wearing a suit and drinking Miller High Life.
Mese said running for office was one of the most “fantastic experiences of my life.”
Mese ran on a platform focused on changing the parish’s Unified Development Code, which serves as a blueprint for land use and development. He said the rewriting the UDC would have the eventual impact of fixing other community ills like crime, blight and poverty.
He said Tuesday night that he and fellow no-party candidate Myers effectively brought attention to the parish’s broken UDC and he hopes the mayor will work to improve the code.
“What (Holden) will be remembered for is what transpires in the next four years,” Mese said. “He can either be the man who refuses to do the right thing, or the man who changes the destiny of Baton Rouge.”
Myers, a lawyer and property manager, was the surprise mayoral candidate who launched his campaign after qualifying for office Aug. 17.
“This was a near impossible challenge,” he said. “Some people have ambition that exceeds their ability. I am just one of those people.”
Advocate staff writer Amy Wold contributed to this story.