State representative candidate Edmond Jordan is making a campaign issue out of East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards’ health and her ability to represent constituents at the state level in a new mailer he will send out to 8,000 voters this week.
Jordan, an attorney, came in second to Edwards in the October primary election for the House District 29 seat. The runoff election is Nov. 21. Both candidates are Democrats.
In his letter, Jordan offers his prayers to Edwards, who was diagnosed more than two years ago with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, but he then points out her absences on the Metro Council and the campaign trail as a result of her illness.
“She has indicated that she is able to fight for our needs, all the while failing to fulfill her current duties as councilwoman and being absent from every forum and debate to date,” he said.
Edwards called the move both desperate and offensive. She said Jordan was mischaracterizing both her health condition and her record of service.
“For a lawyer to try to predict what my health performance is going to be, that doesn’t sit well with me,” she said. “If he’s a physician, maybe he’d have something credible to add, but he’s not, and he doesn’t know my treatment plan.”
Edwards, who said she’s in partial remission, added that she consulted her doctors before running to determine if she was healthy enough to run and was told she could.
Edwards has not attended a council meeting since June and had to qualify for state representative by proxy with a signed affidavit because she was hospitalized at the time. Before that, she had a nearly perfect attendance record for council meetings.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. It is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and is expected to be No. 2 by 2020. Only 15 percent of patients live past two years.
Jordan’s letter notes that Edwards has missed crucial council votes on issues including police body cameras and a proposed misdemeanor jail.
“I know that her recent inability to serve is through no fault of her own,” he said. “However, our issues are too great and important to not have representation that is focused on our challenges.”
He also wrote that he understands that raising the issue of her health could be unpopular.
“Believe me, this was a difficult decision,” Jordan wrote. “But sometimes leadership requires us to make unpopular and uneasy decisions. ... The safe decision would be to say nothing, but that’s not leadership; that’s politics.”
In an interview, Jordan said he wouldn’t have brought up her health at all if Edwards hadn’t first mentioned it to her constituents in her own mailer.
Edwards sent a mailer ahead of the primary election addressing her illness and reminding her constituents that, “A diagnosis is not a death sentence.”
“As a woman of faith who believes in the power of prayer, I am affirming life and improving daily,” she wrote in the mailer, noting that she would be a strong health care advocate. She ended the letter by saying, “I am a survivor.”
Jordan conceded in an interview that he did not know the extent of Edwards’ medical condition. But he questioned whether she’ll be able to handle the sometimes grueling schedule of the Legislature given that she’s been unable to make it to council meetings and three candidate forums. He noted that there will be a special session to deal with the state budget deficit early next year.
“If you haven’t shown you can make a committee meeting or a Metro Council meeting, which is one time a month, we’re talking about something you’re going to have to be dealing with every day, more than 12 hours certainly on some days and sometimes longer,” he said. “It’s going to be a grind, and we need someone who is capable of doing that.”
Edwards said being a councilwoman is more than just showing up for votes. She said she communicates with her office every day and continues to handle constituent issues. She acknowledged she has been unable to come to council meetings for the past five months because she has been enduring an aggressive treatment plan.
“But I would hate to think that someone would take these last five months of me physically being away as a snapshot of the length and breadth of my public service,” she said. “I don’t apologize for the quality of my service.”
Edwards said she expects to make some of the council meetings before the year’s end and expects she will be able to be present at the State Capitol for a likely special session.
Edwards also took a jab at Jordan, noting that he lives in West Baton Rouge Parish, which makes up only a small part of the House district. The largest part, 80 percent, is in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“They should be represented by a candidate who lives and works in the parish,” she said. “He lives in a minority area of the district.”
Edwards added that she feels Jordan has hit a new low in political attacks.
“I can’t think of a person who has ever been singled out for being ill and an opponent using that as a reason to get votes,” she said. “It just baffles my mind. I certainly would never do it to anyone.”