The argument over how to improve economic development in depressed areas of north Baton Rouge is intensifying, with East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council members representing the poorest parts of the parish banding together to ask Councilman John Delgado to butt out.
On Wednesday, Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel tried to block Delgado’s recent proposal to create an economic development district in north Baton Rouge, asking that it be deleted from the agenda so it would never be discussed or voted on by the council.
Her attempt to block what ordinarily would be the routine business of introducing an item on the agenda failed. But she had the support of the other four black councilwomen who represent parts of north Baton Rouge, which includes Scotlandville and other depressed parts of the parish.
The rest of the council, all white Republicans representing south Baton Rouge or the northern rural suburban areas, voted to preserve the item, which won’t come to a council vote until next month. Delgado’s south Baton Rouge district is among the parish’s most prosperous.
In recent weeks, Banks-Daniel has been critical of the proposal Delgado has floated to spur economic activity in her district. She described his interest in north Baton Rouge as a veiled attempt to curry favor with black voters in his likely run for mayor-president in 2016. In an email to The Advocate, she referred to him as the “great white hope.”
After the action on Wednesday, Delgado said he was blown away by his colleagues, adding that their constituents should be angry their elected representatives would choose politics over progress.
“The fact is that while they have sat there for years and years and years, politicians in north Baton Rouge have done very little to help the residents they claim to represent,” Delgado said, adding that the attempt to delete his item was “stupid and childish.”
“It’s offensive to me, and it should be outrageous to the people who live there. I’m trying to help the people, while Chauna Banks-Daniel is putting politics over the needs of her constituents,” he said. “Honestly, this is why nothing has been done to help north Baton Rouge ever.”
Banks-Daniel said this week she didn’t want Delgado’s agenda item to conflict with work that’s already underway being led by state Sen.-elect Regina Barrow, who has passed legislation to create an economic development district that would pull together leaders to try to bring projects to the area.
Delgado’s proposal, in contrast, would have made developers in the district eligible for property tax breaks.
Banks-Daniel said she believes Barrow already is planning to expand her district’s proposed boundaries and will include funding mechanisms and incentives with upcoming legislation.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she also voted to delete Delgado’s proposal because she thinks he should work with Barrow and others who have been working on a plan for the area.
“There’s a district that’s been established by Rep. Barrow, so if he wants to work in conjunction with them, then that’s what he needs to do,” Collins-Lewis said.
She also called his motives into question, saying that when Delgado first took office, he voted against an important measure benefiting north Baton Rouge residents in Scotlandville. The measure involved spending millions of dollars to relocate residents living adjacent to the smelly, unsightly North Baton Rouge Treatment Plant.
“It’s funny to me now that John Delgado wants to create a district to help people in north Baton Rouge when he voted against the buyout for the people near the sewer plant,” she said.
Banks-Daniel, in an email, said she’s been fielding many calls from residents and developers in north Baton Rouge recently who have expressed confusion about Delgado’s desire to lead on the economic development issue when community leaders are working toward that end.
She took a shot at Delgado’s own district, saying she’s received communications from his constituents who “would like me to come help them resolve their issues, because there apparently is a myriad of concerns that they are not pleased about.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said she’s not concerned about who gets credit for helping north Baton Rouge but agreed that Delgado’s attempts to create an economic development district may duplicate what Barrow has started. She said she didn’t want constituents to be confused about the process and wanted to ensure the stakeholders involved were at the table.
“I don’t want to prevent any economic development from happening, but I don’t want residents to get confused,” Wicker said. “We slowed it down to make sure there’s an education plan in place. We want that process to be respected and honored.”
Councilwomen C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards also voted to delete Delgado’s proposal.