PLAQUEMINE — In a decision that divided the community along racial lines, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night appointed the widow of former mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta as the city’s interim mayor.
The board’s action during a heavily attended special meeting was met with an outcry from black residents who packed the meeting, hoping to see the board select Mayor Pro Tem Oscar S. Mellion as interim mayor in the wake of Gulotta’s death.
Gulotta died Sept. 10 from a massive heart attack.
Mellion, who is black, has served as a Plaquemine selectman for more than 20 years. The mayor’s widow, Mary Sue Gulotta, who is white, has no previous experience serving as an elected official.
The board voted 5-1 to appoint Gulotta’s wife of 37 years to serve as mayor until the city holds its next election in November 2016.
The Board of Selectmen consists of four white men and two black men.
Selectman Jimmie Randle Jr., who is black, did nominate Mellion for interim mayor but his motion failed for lack of a second. He then voted in favor of Mary Sue Gulotta.
“It’s my understanding that the board asked her to do this,” city spokeswoman Ellie Hebert said, speaking for Mary Sue Gulotta after Tuesday’s meeting. “And she wants to finish Tony’s term. She feels strongly that’s what Tony would have wanted for her — to finish a lot of the projects he was working on.”
Mellion, who is vying to be the city’s next police chief in the Oct. 24 elections, told Mary Sue Gulotta after the board’s vote that the community and selectmen will be holding her accountable for actions in her new role as the city’s administrative head.
“It was no secret to anyone that I wanted to be mayor,” he said during an interview after meeting. “But if that’s what it takes to move the city forward then so be it. I want to see the city prosper. And I’m going to do everything I can to support the new mayor.”
Several black residents spoke in support of appointing Mellion as mayor at Tuesday’s meeting and say they believed he should have rightfully gotten the job.
“I’m standing up for what’s right. People are fed up,” the Rev. Therman E. Arnold said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “Black people have been oppressed for far too long. You don’t have no God-given reason why Oscar shouldn’t be mayor of Plaquemine.”
Martin Batiste, another black resident, said he had nothing personal against the mayor’s wife, he just felt the city’s needed a leader with more experience.
Hebert said Mary Sue Gulotta is eager to work with the board to gain the experience she’ll need to lead the city. She also hopes to unify the community as she tries to move it forward, Hebert added.
In a less controversial decision, the board also adopted a resolution to rename Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park in Tony Gulotta’s honor.
Selectman Lindon “Lin” Rivet Jr. praised the former mayor for his vision in transforming what was once a vacant 3-acre lot into the popular public park it is now.
“He was a visionary. And this was one of the visions he had since 1996,” Rivet said.
The city will host a dedication ceremony sometime in the near future, officials said.