Restaurateur and former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois leapt into the increasingly crowded mayoral race with a colorful announcement Saturday morning.
He opined on the concept of free will, asked supporters for input on a tax holiday idea he’s working on and remarked that “all I can say is, we need to git ’er done.”
Crime and infrastructure were discussed in broad terms, though the candidate waved off reporters when asked for specifics, saying he has months left before the election and couldn’t be expected to lay out his whole platform on announcement day.
He promised to give the media fodder for a story every week.
Bourgeois owns the George’s chain of restaurants, though announced his candidacy at Café Americain on Jefferson Highway. He said he wanted to start his campaign in the part of town where he grew up. As a boy, he rode his bicycle in the area, and Bourgeois quipped that “it’s always uphill to downtown Baton Rouge.”
This year, especially. Bourgeois is the ninth candidate — and the third Republican — to enter the race. Though he served a term as the District 12 representative on the Metro Council, Bourgeois sought to establish himself as an outsider candidate, telling several dozen supporters at his announcement that no one in the crowd was a politician or an “establishment Republican.”
He encouraged his attendees to take a yard sign or one of his pamphlets, which include campaign information on one side and the LSU Tigers 2016 football schedule on the reverse.
Bourgeois identified reducing crime as his top priority for Baton Rouge and bemoaned low officer pay, especially among young members of the force. They see Baton Rouge as a stepping stone to a better job elsewhere, he said.
Bourgeois said he was combing through the city budget for opportunities to offer more competitive salaries, though he didn’t provide any specifics.
He also identified traffic as a concern, saying he eventually would lay out his plan to voters.
Bourgeois also has spoken and written about free will, which he generally links to unobtrusive government and to a city leadership that seeks solutions specific to neighborhoods’ needs. He didn’t discuss, though, whether and how that philosophy would translate into concrete programs or legislation.
Asked about improving the quality of life in north Baton Rouge, he remarked that the city needs to improve neighborhoods and that trouble is a result of apathy and blight.
“It really has nothing to do with money,” he said.
Bourgeois floated an idea about instituting a tax holiday for the parish and asked his supporters to weigh in on the matter. If elected, he is considering instituting a sales tax break around Christmas, saying it could attract shoppers from outside the parish and help local businesses.
As a businessman, Bourgeois said the community has been good to him and that he is running for office to return the favor. He hopes the strength of his character will propel him to victory in November.
“I have a good heart,” he said.
“I assume I’m going to win. ... I’m a very popular guy.”
Others running for mayor include Republican John Delgado, who defeated Bourgeois in a runoff election when Bourgeois was running for re-election to the Metro Council in 2012. The third Republican in the race is state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central.
Democrats who have announced include former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome; C. Denise Marcelle, a former Metro Council member who won a seat in the state House last fall; former Metro Councilman Byron Sharper, who lost a council election to Marcelle in 2008; and former professional football player and former Southern University Athletic Director Greg LaFleur.
Others in the mayor’s race are real estate agent Darryl Gissel and retired city-parish accountant B.J. Amador. Both are running as independents.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.