Kicking off a busy Baton Rouge election year, East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado officially announced Thursday he is running for mayor-president to succeed term-limited Kip Holden.
Delgado, a Republican, offered up a handful of campaign promises and positions he likely will use as a foundation for his 11-month campaign to become the parish’s next leader. He promised to bulk up the size of the Baton Rouge Police Department, back traffic infrastructure proposals, promote economic development and take a more hands-on role in the parish’s education system.
“We need to make Baton Rouge a better place to live, to learn, to work and to raise our children,” he said. “We need leadership to build the city and community that our future generations will inherit and make sure they’re also proud to call it home.”
The 41-year-old first-term councilman, who is an attorney and bar owner, said his top priority is public safety. He promised to increase the size of the Police Department by 200 officers.
He noted that the 2016 budget, proposed by Holden, only funds an additional 15 officers. The department currently employs 665 officers.
Delgado also said he would continue to work on solutions to address the parish’s traffic congestion by repairing and replacing bridges in the parish, expanding roadways and creating an alternative to the interstate.
He said he backed the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan — or BUMP — a recent proposal to create an “inner loop” toll road. It would have linked the interstates that cut through the parish and U.S. 61 and U.S. 190 in a new path. The plan was introduced by a private company and had been embraced by some Baton Rouge-area legislators but was rejected by the Louisiana Transportation Authority in October.
Delgado said Thursday that the proposal would ease congestion while being low cost to taxpayers. The state panel, however, rejected the project because a consultant hired by the state estimated it could cost taxpayers up to $400 million. Project backers said the roadway could pay for itself with tolls.
Holden’s administration didn’t support the plan.
Delgado also said it’s time for Baton Rouge’s mayor to take a more active role in the education system.
“For far too long, we’ve acted like educating our kids is only the responsibility of the School Board, and the city-parish government just washes its hands of it,” he said.
He said that as mayor, he could seek additional funding for Head Start and early childhood education programs, could recruit charter schools to come to Baton Rouge, could offer additional security for schools and could improve access to libraries.
Delgado also touched on some of his previous Metro Council battles when he discussed his economic development priorities, which include attracting businesses to the undeveloped parts of the Mississippi riverfront and spurring economic development in north Baton Rouge.
This past year, Delgado took a leading role in a fight to prevent an industrial barge-cleaning company from locating on River Road across from residential neighborhoods and down the road from LSU. He succeeded in getting the Metro Council to vote to change the land’s zoning to prevent the company from locating there. He called on leaders and developers to encourage retail and entertainment development options for the riverfront instead of industrial uses.
Delgado drew the ire of some colleagues recently with his proposal to create an incentive district in the economically depressed parts of Baton Rouge north of Florida Boulevard. Delgado said he was responding to calls to improve north Baton Rouge, but some councilwomen who represent those areas questioned whether he was pandering for black votes.
Delgado made a name for himself in his first council term primarily with his role fighting against the effort to create the city of St. George in south Baton Rouge. Delgado frequently used strong language to criticize those who were involved with the incorporation effort. The effort ended last year when organizers came up just short of the required signatures on a petition to call an election.
Some of Delgado’s critics have said he’s too polarizing and has burned too people with his inflammatory rhetoric.
“I’m not afraid to speak up when something needs to be said, but I’m also not in the business of making political enemies to the detriment of Baton Rouge’s future,” he said in the release. “I can disagree with a colleague one day and work with them on a collaborative effort to improve Baton Rouge the next.”
So far, the only other candidates to officially state their intentions to run for mayor-president are state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat, and former Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, a Republican.
Delgado said he expected that Broome would be his biggest competition. On Thursday, he said she was a “career politician” who “can’t run from her record.”
Asked to respond, Broome declined comment.