BAKER — More than 100 people attended a forum for Baker mayor, police chief and City Council candidates Thursday night at Baker Municipal Auditorium as they head into Saturday’s start of early voting.
The March 5 primary is attracting attention primarily because the incumbents for mayor and for police chief are not seeking re-election.
Among the mayoral candidates, a common theme was job creation in the economically distressed city.
The four candidates seeking to replace Mayor Harold Rideau are former Mayor Leroy Davis; Joyce Burges, who has held the District 3 seat on the Baker City Council since 2012; former council member Carlon Simpson; and the city’s chief administrative officer, Darnell Waites, all Democrats.
Davis, who was mayor of Baker from 2001-04, said that during his administration he grew the budget and brought businesses into the city.
“My campaign is self-financed,” he said. “No one can tell me what to do except you, the voters.”
Burges stressed the need for Baker to progress, especially in education and economic development. If elected, she said, she would encourage young people to be more involved in city government, and she would organize town hall meetings.
Simpson, a former City Council member who served from 2000-04 and again from 2008-12, said that if elected, she would work to bring Baker back into the spotlight.
“Without change, there can be no growth,” she said. “We can make change together.”
Waites has been the chief administrative officer for the city of Baker for three years. “We shaved $2 million off the budget last year. We do have issues, but we’ve been able to manage our finances. I’m doing it every day,” he said.
His ability to talk to everyone in Baker and promote unity, Waites said, makes him the best candidate for mayor.
Two men, Darryl Rainwater and Carl Dunn, both Democrats, are vying to replace longtime Police Chief Mike Knaps.
Dunn, a retired Baton Rouge police captain, said he spent 32 years in law enforcement and has the heart of a public servant.
“It’s not just about being a police officer; it’s about serving the public,” he said.
Rainwater, who has worked for the Baker Police Department for 20 years, is a member of the Baker Police Administrative Team.
“We get up every day and put the badge on with pride,” he said, adding that, if elected, he would work to keep Baker one of the safest cities in Louisiana.
Early voting for the primary starts Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Feb. 27, except Sunday, at the Office of Motor Vehicles Building, 2250 Main St., Baker, as well as locations in Baton Rouge including City Hall, 222 St. Louis St.
A runoff, if needed, is on April 9.
Candidates for City Council also spoke at the forum, including Charles Vincent, District 1 incumbent, and his challenger, Admon McCastle; District 2 incumbent Pete Heine and challengers Naisha Cooper and Cleveland Thomas; District 3 candidates Glenda Bryant, Bruce D. Jones and Troy Watson; District 4 candidates Doris Alexander and Antonia Caine; and District 5 challenger Brenda Jackson. District 2 candidate LaSunia McNeely, District 4 incumbent Robert Young and District 5 incumbent John Givens did not attend.