The six candidates vying for seats on the Baker City Council agree that boosting economic development is the primary issue for the city’s leaders but have different views about how to address the problem.
Two candidates, newcomer Brenda Jackson in District 5, and incumbent Charles Vincent in District 1, were elected in the March 5 primary. The runoff for the remaining three seats — all featuring candidates running as Democrats — is scheduled for April 9, with early voting going on through Saturday.
C ouncilman Pete Heine, a former Baker mayor, faces opposition from Cleveland Thomas in the competition for the District 2 seat.
Heine, 87, was first elected to the Baker City Council in 1956 and served until 1964 when he became mayor. He remained in that office until 1976 and returned for two more terms from 1981-92. After his last mayoral term ended, he spent seven years as the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury’s manager before returning to the City Council in 2012.
Heine, who is endorsed by the Greater Baton Rouge AFL-CIO and other local unions, said people should vote for him based on his record of working to improve the city.
Along with outgoing Baker Mayor Harold Rideau, Heine said he worked with developers to bring the Greenwood Shopping Center into Baker, got the abandoned Pizza Hut on La. 19 torn down, convinced CATS to provide bus service to the Leland College area and aided the Leland College Foundation with the retreat center being built in District 2.
“I bring to the job the knowledge and wisdom gained from all those years of public service and the contacts with people and businesses I’ve built up,” he said.
Thomas, 55, a senior technician at Syngenta chemical company in St. Gabriel, is endorsed by the East Baton Rouge Democratic Parish Executive Committee.
As a lifelong resident of Baker, Thomas said he is concerned about the way the city is heading, especially the lack of economic development.
“We need to get things to where people will stop when passing through (the city), even make Baker a destination,” he said.
Along with former Baker High School assistant principal Calvin Nicholas, Thomas coordinates the Baker Alumni and Friends Golf Tournament benefitting the school. More such events, as well as festivals and parades, are needed to draw people to the area, he said.
If elected, Thomas said he will focus on recruiting more businesses to the city. He also will help the city partner with nearby companies such as Stupp Corp. and Exxon to train Baker residents for jobs, he said.
District 3 Councilwoman Joyce Burges did not seek re-election, instead making a failed bid for Baker mayor. Darnell Waites, the city’s chief administrative officer, and former Baker mayor Leroy Davis are in the runoff for that office.
Troy Watson and Glenda Bryant are competing to fill Burges’ seat.
Bryant, 62, a retired operating room technician, said her experience living in many small towns across the country gives her a unique perspective on the problems Baker faces.
Business is the key to moving Baker forward, and the city needs a wider variety of stores and more restaurants to draw in not just locals but travelers from the airport, she said.
Bryant serves on the Baker Alcohol Beverage Control Board and participates in many community events, such as the Back to School Bash held in District 3 and the holiday toy drive.
Better communication is needed between the local government and citizens, she said.
“I am on team Baker. I could work with anyone who wants to move Baker forward,” Bryant said.
Watson, 52, is a coordinator with the Veteran’s Affairs Administration and served on the Baker School Board from 2011-14. A resident of Baker for 11 years, she also is a member of the Baton Rouge Parliamentarians.
Watson’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in public administration, both from Southern University.
“It’s time businesses realize the potential in Baker and those relocating realize the beauty in the city of Baker. Baker should be a destination, not a drive-through city,” she said.
If elected, Watson said she will establish partnerships with local colleges, universities and businesses to provide more workforce training and education to the citizens of Baker.
Both candidates are favorably recommended by the Greater Baton Rouge AFL-CIO.
Baker School Board member Doris Alexander faces incumbent Robert Young in the council’s District 4 seat.
Alexander, 72, a retired union representative, is halfway through her term on the Baker School Board.
Both candidates touted their work for the community, saying they want to battle blight in the city.
Young, who works for Primerica financial services company, said his record on the council is the best reason why he should be re-elected. He was elected in 2012 after serving the remainder of the term begun by Councilman Jimmy Pourciau, who resigned for health reasons.
Being there for his constituents, whether that means filling sandbags or providing support such as during the Baker Civic Club shooting in 2014, is an important part of the job, he said.
Young, 60, said he voted against a proposed utility rate increase and in favor of reducing late penalties for those unable to pay their water and sewer bills on time because Baker has a large number of seniors and others on fixed incomes. He said he also co-authored ordinances aimed at reducing blight and has been working to try to bring more businesses, such as chain coffee shops and restaurants, into the city.
Goals for his next term, if he is re-elected, include discussing term limits for elected city officials and studying the feasibility of building a sewage treatment plant in Baker to free residents from the extra sewer fee they pay to East Baton Rouge Parish, he said.
Alexander is endorsed by the Greater Baton Rouge AFL-CIO and the East Baton Rouge Democratic Party. A graduate of Southern University, she is president of the Baker Pilot Club, a member of the Rotary and Civic Club in the city, a board member of the Baker Charitable Foundation and chairwoman of the Baker Heritage Museum.
Her involvement in the community gives her perspective on the issues facing the city and contacts with the businesses and citizens in Baker, Alexander said.
Blight is the main obstacle to economic development in the city, she said, and if elected, she plans to seek out grants and find other ways to make Baker more attractive to businesses and families.
“I am concerned with bringing everyone (in Baker) together and the blight that exists in the city, especially in District 4,” she said.
Alexander said incumbent Young does not live in the district and is out of touch with the issues important to its residents.
Young said he spends weekends outside District 4 but asserted that during the working week, he is at his qualifying address, 331 Buffwood Drive, which is inside the district. Young’s official address listed with the secretary of state is 3600 Harding St., Baker. His wife, Chequita Young, pays taxes on that property, located in District 2, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Assessor’s Office.
“It’s all political,” Young said about the residency accusation.