So much for tradition.
Days ahead of a vote to replace outgoing East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council members C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards, some of the remaining council members say they may flout custom and go against the two councilwomen’s hand-picked candidates to take over their district seats.
Marcelle and Edwards are both heading to the state House of Representatives on Monday, and each proposed candidates to take their places for the remainder of their terms. Marcelle selected former NAACP President LaMont Cole, while Edwards tapped attorney Erika Green.
When a council member leaves, tradition has dictated that the remaining members honor the wishes of the exiting council member when appointing a temporary replacement.
But the appointees, who will be voted on Wednesday, would hold the office for almost a full year. Some council members are now saying the stakes are too high to not explore other strong candidates. At the same time, at least two outside candidates are lobbying for the jobs.
Gary Chambers, publisher of The Rouge Collection, an editorial website that targets local African-American issues, said he is seeking the District 5 appointment over Green because he doesn’t want the seat to go to someone who could run again in the November city-parish elections.
“It’s unfair to the democratic process,” Chambers said. “You are giving them 11, 12 months to sit in office and get name recognition and branding for free.”
Chambers vowed that he would hold the appointed seat and not run in November. He also noted that he’s been an outspoken voice for north Baton Rouge economic development, and has personally challenged Mayor-President Kip Holden’s record in that area. He said he’d like to use the remainder of the term, which aligns with Holden’s final year in office, to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire.
Green said she wouldn’t comment on Chambers’ decision to pursue the appointment, and she added that she has not made up her mind about running in November.
Similarly, Sandy Lemoine, a retired information technology operations manager at ExxonMobil who lives in the Capital Heights area, is seeking an appointment for Marcelle’s open seat. District 7 has historically been a majority-black district with a Democrat as a council member, but Lemoine is a white Republican.
Lemoine, who has played an active role with his local civic associations, said he wanted to step up to fill the vacancy because of his history of civic engagement. He said he’s also regularly taken on leadership roles at work and with church organizations.
Lemoine also said he didn’t know whether he would want to run for the seat officially in November.
Because the seats will be open with less than a year before the four-year council term expires at the end of 2016, there won’t be any special elections to fill the remainder of the terms.
Only the 10 remaining council members will vote to fill the seats, and a seven-vote majority will be needed for a selection, leaving little room for disagreement.
The two surprise candidates are expected to get some consideration.
Councilman John Delgado indicated this week he would nominate Chambers if needed, and Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he’d nominate and vote for Lemoine.
“Gary has been a strong voice for the people in that district and would be a strong candidate and deserves our consideration for his appointment,” Delgado said about Chambers, while stopping short of committing his vote.
Delgado said he also was inclined to support a candidate who agrees to not run in the fall.
“We’re taking away power of voters to select their representatives — let’s be clear about that. We’re substituting our judgment for the voters,” he said. “This creates a level playing field for November.”
Delgado and Chambers both said that, historically, council appointees who have filled empty seats have agreed not to run. However, at least three council members who left office early — Joe Robique, Duke Welch and Mike Tassin — asked that their wives fill the seats. Their wives — Patty Jo Roubique, Roxson Welch and Martha Jane Tassin — ran for office after their appointments ended.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel has for months questioned the process of deferring to the exiting council members’ choices and has pushed for opportunities to allow more candidates to be considered. Banks-Daniel said this week that she is leaning toward abstaining entirely from the vote.
However, she also said the council should favor candidates not planning on running after the term ends at the end of the year.
Some council members say they plan on sticking with Cole and Green.
Councilman Joel Boe said he would support those choices; however, he added that he believes members should vote for the people they believe are best suited for the job.
Tara Wicker also said she supports both of the recommended candidates.
While Chambers has been meeting with council members, he is finding himself asking for votes from politicians he’s openly criticized on the pages of TheRougeCollection.net.
He’s previously questioned whether Metro Council members care about issues that affect the city’s black communities. Chambers also has criticized District Attorney Hillar Moore III on his website, saying he thinks it is important the parish elects a black district attorney.
Amoroso said he likes Chambers personally but thinks some of his rhetoric online is “stirring the pot” in an unproductive way.
“You can’t separate what he’s written on The Rouge Collection and on Facebook from his candidacy on the Metro Council,” he said.
Chambers said the council should “look past their personal feelings and make the right decision for Baton Rouge.”