This isn’t an earth-shattering development in Baton Rouge politics, as what we know about this town and this state from our knowledge of history is that people coming straight from the business community generally get slaughtered when they run for top-of-the-ticket offices. Broome is probably not panicking based on today’s announcement.
Though still many months away, 2020 will bring a mayor’s race to Baton Rouge and already potential challengers to incumbent Mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome are beginning to test the political waters.
Among them is 31-year-old Republican businessman and restaurateur Jordan Piazza, who tells Daily Report he plans to formally announce his candidacy this spring.
Piazza—who co-owns Phil’s Oyster Bar & Seafood Restaurant and Uncle Earl’s Bar with his brother, Anthony—says while working in the public sector was not his original career path, he has felt a “true calling” in recent months to serve the community.
“As I’ve watched the challenges that our great city continues to face, I believe it’s time for the next generation of leaders to get involved implementing real change,” he says.
A Baton Rouge native and graduate of LSU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business, Piazza began his career in the corporate office of Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux. He then spent several years as business manager for Raising Cane’s before re-creating in 2017 the popular Phil’s Oyster Bar, that, for decades, was owned and operated by his father, the late Gus Piazza.
In recent months, Piazza says he has been meeting with business and community leaders and is encouraged by the feedback he has received.
Piazza is an interesting candidate, given that he’s Gus’ son and Gus was a legendary figure in Baton Rouge. He has some of the local celebrity which has been useful to political candidates in the past. And the Piazzas are known for having amazingly good connections.
But the reason we’re going to be tepid about this until we see some evidence it really has legs is that this state, politically, hates business people. Every time somebody who comes from a true business background and runs for a significant office, with the exception of state legislative seats, where business people are increasingly welcome (they completely dominated last fall’s legislative elections, truth be told), they get crushed.
Eddie Rispone was a good example. John Fleming, who ran for the Senate in 2016 as a business guy who happened to be a congressman, spent a ton of money and didn’t get far. In that same race Abhay Patel, who was a pretty impressive candidate from the standpoint of being an articulate, engaging conservative with a business background who could have caught fire in a different state, got nowhere and ended up withdrawing. Past candidates for governor, like John Georges, have blown huge amounts of money on tiny vote totals. And two cycles ago in the Baton Rouge mayor’s race, when Kip Holden was running for a third term and appeared to be vulnerable (he wasn’t), local businessman John Conroy tried to gin up support for a mayoral run and found closed doors all over town.
We’re not saying the trend can’t be bucked. What we’re saying is it’s unlikely.
Louisianans elect politicians to political office, and Baton Rougeans are probably the most Louisianan of all the Louisianans in this regard.
That isn’t to say Broome is not beatable. She most definitely is. She’s a disaster and everybody, including the Democrats and her North Baton Rouge constituency, knows it.
That’s why state representative Denise Marcelle, who Broome managed to beat in the mayoral primary four years ago, is making noises about running again, and it’s also why Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, like Broome and Marcelle a black Democrat but unlike them not so much a race hustler, is also talking about it. One of the two could very well knock Broome out of the runoff.
Piazza being in on the Republican side means that Metro Councilman Matt Watson, who has been preparing for a mayoral run for over a year, won’t have the GOP side of the field to himself. But the guess here is that was never going to happen, because it seems more or less inevitable that somebody from the state legislative delegation on the Republican side will get in.
A former member of that delegation, Rep. Steve Carter, could easily jump into the race and would be a formidable candidate; Carter’s loss to Franklin Foil in the Senate District 16 primary was as narrow as any race around here has ever been, and Carter remains quite popular. He might be a little old to take on a three-term hitch as mayor-president, though.
The candidate we might be persuaded to be interested in seeing run is Rep. Paula Davis, who might have put herself in a bit of a difficult position within the GOP legislative delegation. It seems likely that Rep. Sherman Mack (R-Albany) is going to be the Speaker of the House, though Mack hasn’t locked up 53 votes from within the GOP delegation (he has 53 counting a few independents and Democrats he’s picked up support from) and he needs to make that happen before the inauguration for hygienic purposes if nothing else. As we understand it Davis has been doing everything she can to stop Mack from getting the Speakership, and the result of that might serve as a testament to the old adage that “if you strike at the king you must kill him.” A Mack Speakership probably results in lousy committee assignments for Davis, which means she probably won’t have much of anything to do for the next four years at the Legislature.
That being the case, if it is (and we’ll know relatively soon), Paula Davis could be an exceptionally formidable candidate for mayor-president of Baton Rouge.
People think that East Baton Rouge Parish is forevermore destined to be run by a black Democrat. The numbers simply do not bear out such a contention. Two things should be understood – first, the racial makeup of the East Baton Rouge Parish electorate, as of yesterday, stands at 50.3 percent white, 44.3 percent black. And second, Broome beat Bodi White by only 4,200 votes out of 115,000 cast back in 2016, and she pulled a quarter of the white vote in doing so.
Who are these white voters who went for Broome? Geographically, a lot of them are in neighborhoods close to LSU, like for example the Southdowns area between the university lakes and Perkins Road, or in other well-to-do areas of town where can be found state workers, LSU faculty, lobbyists and lawyers. They probably lean left, though that isn’t necessarily the reason they voted for Broome.
The big issue with a lot of these voters is cultural, rather than political. They keep choosing black Democrats over white Republicans because for the last three elections, and actually perhaps the last four (though there were lots of other problems with Bobby Simpson), the Republican candidate has sounded “country.” The voters in these areas, whether they’re in Southdowns, Bocage, Spanish Town, the Garden District or wherever, tend to dislike the idea of being ruled by hillbillies or people who sound like them; they feel more urbane having a black Democrat running things than to see the mayor twanging away on television.
But Paula Davis doesn’t sound country at all. She sounds a whole lot like people in Southdowns and Bocage do, because she’s one of them. And her politics are center-right, if not more or less center. She’s the kind of Republican who can capture white Hillary Clinton voters in Baton Rouge, particularly if she’s running against an incompetent like Broome with the disastrous record of the past three years around her neck – or if Marcelle or Wicker were to take Broome out in the primary.
So far as we know Davis hasn’t made any moves to run for mayor-president in Baton Rouge. That probably should change, because she can win. And we would imagine she’d have an enormous amount of help if she did run, because Baton Rouge is a reasonably large city and in reasonably large cities it is a very large national happening to see a Republican take a mayoral race from a sitting Democrat. The usual pattern is that, like Detroit or New York or Los Angeles or Austin, once a prosperous Republican-run city tips over to Democrat rule, the decline is inexorable as is the demographic alteration producing a virtually uniform Democrat electorate. Davis would therefore be a major political star if she could run and win in that race this fall, and given time she might find an opportunity to leverage that success into higher office (either statewide or federal), or a presidential appointment, or any of the other perquisites former mayors often find themselves with.
But Piazza appears to be first to the post, so we’ll see what he can do. Perhaps as a political rookie he can demonstrate veteran-class chops and begin consolidating GOP support before the others get in. What we do know is a good Republican candidate can knock off a weak Sharon Weston Broome, and that’s a result Baton Rouge desperately needs.