Mayor-President Kip Holden said at a forum Wednesday that investors have not been interested in developing north Baton Rouge, though he defended his record of bringing economic development and jobs to the city-parish.
Holden, who is in a runoff for lieutenant governor, stood up for his record as East Baton Rouge Parish mayor during a forum held by commentary website The Rouge Collection. His conversation with Gary Chambers, the site’s publisher, grew contentious at multiple points during the forum.
Holden’s opponent, former Plaquemines parish president Billy Nungesser, also attended the forum at Southern University.
Chambers asked Holden why north Baton Rouge does not have the same level of economic development that the southern part of the city-parish and downtown have.
“What you’re saying is not correct,” Holden said. “We have a lot of things happening right here, in north Baton Rouge.”
Holden said he has brought jobs to the entire city-parish, noting that someone who lives in north Baton Rouge could still get a job at a company downtown or in another area.
“If a person lives here and gets a job at IBM, is that a crime?” Holden said. “…When you go out and recruit things that put people to work, there’s not a color line at all.”
Chambers accused him of not answering the question.
Chambers said south Baton Rouge has the popular Perkins Rowe development and downtown now has many hotels. He asked why north Baton Rouge does not have the same.
“You don’t have the investors who are investing in this community, and I’m telling you that straight up,” Holden said.
Holden said he cannot force a business to move into a part of the city-parish where they do not want to go. But he also said that the local government has taken steps to bring amenities to north Baton Rouge, like sidewalks in some areas.
Later in the forum, Chambers asked Holden and Nungesser if they would commit to hiring a 33 percent black staff as lieutenant governor to reflect demographics. Holden said many city-parish jobs are staffed by black employees, but that he is most concerned about hiring the best person for the job.
Chambers asked again whether Holden would commit to the 33 percent quota.
“Sir, I’m going tell you again, for the second time…. there’s not one business that’s gonna make a commitment that they’re going to hire 33 percent of the staff,” Holden said. “Because you are now trying to push a law that is unconstitutional, you cannot set quotas.”
Nungesser said he has hired diverse staffs in Plaquemines, but Holden cut in and accused Nungesser of not answering the question. He challenged whether Nungesser would agree to making 33 percent of his employees black.
“Kip, I agree with you, you can’t set a number on it but I wouldn’t limit it to 33 percent,” Nungesser said.