The announcement came at a press conference just a few minutes ago. The accompanying press release…
Sen. Mack “Bodi” White announced his candidacy for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish on Wednesday while surrounded by his family, friends, elected officials and local leaders from the Baton Rouge area.
Sen. White said, “I’m tired of seeing middle income families forced to flee Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish because of failing schools, escalating crime, a crumbling infrastructure, and traffic that doesn’t move. I’m running to fix that.“
Standing alongside, and endorsing Sen. White at the event were: ISC President Eddie Rispone, Sen. Dan Claitor, Rep. Steve Carter, Education Reform Leader Raymond Allmon, Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and Mayor Jr. Shelton. Other supporters in attendance were Councilman Joel Boe, Councilman Scott Wilson, Rep. Paula Davis, Rep. Valarie Hodges, Rep. Franklin Foil, Rep. Rick Edmonds, Rep. Barry Ivey, Sen. Rick Ward and Sheriff Nat Williams.
Sen. White closed the press conference by saying changes will not come overnight.
“This will take time, and it will take effort. Most of all, it will take the cooperation of the entire Metro Council, the legislature, state elected officials and my fellow mayors. The unity you see here today will be brought into the East Baton Rouge Mayors Office in 2017. I can do the job, and I’m ready to get to work.”
What’s interesting about this announcement, which has been coming for some time, is how broad White’s support is and the dynamic he brings to the table. Because while White comes from what would commonly be seen as the “old” Baton Rouge Republican school, in that he hails from the northern reaches of the parish and his primary political support base would be Baker-Zachary-Central-Pride, etc., he’s also built a lot of support in South Baton Rouge as well due to his work in favor of an independent school district in the southeast part of the parish and continued support when that effort turned into the St. George incorporation drive.
White was the ally of St. George in the legislature, though he wasn’t bombastic about it. And because he now has some street cred with the St. George people, he has the ability to approach the Baton Rouge Area Foundation crowd and the folks who buy into the idea that Baton Rouge is The Next Great City, the attitude of whom toward St. George is a little less favorable than toward rectal cancer, and offer them a deal they can’t refuse – namely, that if they want to prevent St. George from becoming a reality sometime in the second half of 2017, he’s their guy.
Because of the serious candidates running for mayor, White is the only one who could make any credible case for himself as having the ability to attack the concerns which prompted the St. George incorporation effort in the first place.
Metro Councilman John Delgado, the other Republican in the race, has likened St. George supporters to Al Qaeda, making him hopelessly radioactive to a large segment of the parish’s population. And when Delgado championed the lawsuit-generating pro-gay Fairness Ordinance last year, he did so by accusing its opponents of promoting Christian Sharia law – making him toxic among the sizable proportion of the parish’s residents who identify as practicing Christians. The former and the latter groups have some overlap between them, but they’re not by any means completely inclusive – so of two major constituencies which make up a majority of the half of East Baton Rouge voters who pull levers for Republicans, Delgado has made himself unsupportable. And should by some miracle Delgado actually overcome that problem, his election as mayor would surely fire up the St. George crowd to re-engage the incorporation effort as soon as it becomes legal again in June of 2017.
The Democrat in the race, Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, actually has a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Delgado at present, which is testimony to his rather astonishing burn rate. She’s seen as the frontrunner, and with Rep. Ted James – who many thought would compete with her for the parish’s black vote – not running, there is a clear possibility Broome could win the election in the primary. About half the parish’ electorate is black, and that alone might be enough to carry Broome to 50 percent considering the primary election date will coincide with the presidential election; the electoral makeup of the vote always favors Democrats on presidential election nights.
But Broome has virtually no appeal to white voters in the parish. Unlike current mayor Kip Holden, who sold himself as a pro-business Democrat friendly to the city’s moneyed interests and hired on a number of functionaries tasked with keeping downtown lawyers and architects and the like happy with city contracts, she’s lacking in savvy – and her record in the legislature on pro-business votes is nothing short of abysmal. In an election along straight racial lines on primary night, Broome might have an advantage – though parish-wide there are still slightly more white voters in East Baton Rouge than black voters.
But if the race goes to a runoff, and turnout drops off without the presidential race at the top of the ballot, things could be different. White could make a very credible case that this isn’t about who gets to be the face of Baton Rouge as its mayor but whether East Baton Rouge Parish is about to have the richest parts of it making up a new city – and voting along pure racial lines could well be the most destructive thing black voters could do, because a Mayor-President Broome will produce a St. George in a matter of mere months and if the rhetoric attendant during the St. George petition drive was true then EBR will stare a budget deficit north of $50 million in the face. And with low-turnout elections usually skewing toward older, whiter and more conservative voters, he might have a real shot at winning.
It’s almost a blackmail pitch, but there is no effective argument anyone can make against White as East Baton Rouge’s next mayor-president. Either he goes in, or there’s a St. George popping up as Baton Rouge turns into Detroit. The public knows that’s the direction a city with high crime, bad schools and poisonous traffic problems tends to go in.
But James opting out of running is a major asset for Broome. White is going to have to find a way to both consolidate and turn out the majority of white vote in the parish to Delgado’s detriment, and keep the race from being polarized along racial lines. He’s got to find some reasons that black voters in the parish would be willing to cross over and vote for him, or at least be less than militant about supporting Broome.
Can he do that? Time will tell.