In the wake of his failed bid to become lieutenant governor, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden talked in an interview Tuesday about his plans for the remainder of his term and used the occasion to bash some council members’ ideas for redeveloping north Baton Rouge.
Holden lost the lieutenant governor campaign Saturday in a runoff with former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who won 55 percent of the vote. But Holden said he’s proud that he still broke through barriers as a black candidate with wide support, noting that his total vote count was higher than that received by David Vitter, who lost the gubernatorial race.
Holden’s vote tally was 506,581, and Vitter’s was 505,931, according to numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Holden said he is not ready to announce any big projects during his final year in office, with his term as mayor ending in December 2016. He mentioned continued investment in downtown Baton Rouge, while saying he also hopes to tackle problems in north Baton Rouge in “a well-laid-out plan.”
Holden provided no further details of what he has in mind for north Baton Rouge but took aim at others who recently have floated proposals to redevelop the economically distressed area. The lack of economic development activity there became a campaign issue in recent weeks after it came up at a candidate forum shortly before the election.
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, passed a bill through the Legislature in the spring to create the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District. East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, who represents north Baton Rouge, has supported Barrow’s push and has said she’s working on a plan to complement the legislation.
Councilman John Delgado, who represents the southern part of Baton Rouge, also has introduced a proposal to help north Baton Rouge. His plan differs from the others in that it would give property owners property tax breaks to entice them to develop in the area.
Holden said Delgado will not be heard in north Baton Rouge. Banks-Daniel also has criticized Delgado’s plans.
“He does not know the people there; he does not spend any appreciable time there. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a church there,” Holden said, directing his comments at Delgado.
“You are not the genius of East Baton Rogue Parish, for sure,” the mayor said. “Don’t downgrade the intelligence of the people of north Baton Rouge.”
Holden said he was born and raised in north Baton Rouge and that he knows the people there better than Delgado does.
“Even Chauna Banks, she doesn’t even know the history of Scotlandville,” Holden said.
Responding to Holden’s criticism, Delgado said he simply was addressing concerns he recently heard voiced at a candidate forum about lagging economic development in the area.
“Last time I was in north Baton Rouge, I was at a forum at Southern University where Kip was asked what he’d done for north Baton Rouge, and he didn’t have an appreciable answer,” Delgado said, adding that it took him only a week to put forth a “concrete plan” to incentivize development for the district.
“Other politicians have had years to address economic development in north Baton Rouge and have done little or nothing,” Delgado said.
Delgado responded that recent attacks on him by Holden and Banks-Daniel are directed at him, not his plan.
“It’s an ad hominem attack. No one has said that my plan is a bad idea,” he said.
For her part, Banks-Daniel said, “I just pity the mayor. His focus on me is unnerving.”
Holden, meanwhile, said he’s excited about some of the new developments coming to downtown Baton Rouge, particularly the new River Center Branch Library and the Water Institute of the Gulf, a national and international hub of coastal research that will be located along the Mississippi Riverfront.
“The Water Campus is going to be the biggest game changer for any city in the world,” Holden said.
A year ago, the mayor and several other government leaders pushed for a fourth attempt at a tax election to go toward a new prison, a mental health center and other public safety infrastructure improvements.
The Metro Council would not sign off on it, as members complained that the details were too vague and said they wanted more evidence that new taxes were the only way to make the improvements.
Holden said he does not foresee another push for a tax plan in his term as mayor. The Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Baton Rouge Area Foundation and others were involved in the plans last year.
“That’s not my issue; that was a team issue,” Holden said. “So unless the team says or indicates that we want to look at this proposal, then I’m not going to get out there by myself.”
Asked about his post-mayoral plans, Holden said he is not necessarily thinking that far ahead. Holden has been in office for 11 years and is term-limited so he cannot run again. He’s a Democrat and the city-parish’s first black mayor.
“When I say my prayers, they say, ‘Give us this day,’ ” the mayor said, referencing The Lord’s Prayer. “That’s how I’m going to live: Give us this day.”
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.