With the passage of time, Kip Holden will be considered by history as one of Baton Rouge’s great mayors.
Unfortunately, not enough time has elapsed.
What we see today is an erratic and petulant politician, flying off the handle at perceived slights, quick to anger and difficult to work with.
Where is the Holden of historical perspective, much less the political Happy Warrior that was his image when he was elected in 2004 by a broad coalition of black and white voters?
He was a new mayor during the upheaval of Hurricane Katrina, when the city was flooded with evacuees. That was not all a story of Christian charity, as Holden made a show of saying law and order would not break down on his watch. But with the passage of time, Holden’s ultimate verdict that the city had its finest hour during the evacuation will be what is remembered.
With traffic gridlocked in the wake of the hurricanes, Holden passed a far-reaching tax proposal to build streets. For Holden, for whom building things is the definition of mayoral success, the Green Light Plan was a critical development, as he cut ribbons to open roads for years afterward.
The historian is likely to look back on Holden’s three terms as years of growth and economic progress, particularly in terms of Baton Rouge’s record of surviving the Great Recession of 2008-09. That the mayor has cut a lot of ribbons for new businesses and threw himself into the glamour projects of film studios also are likely to be seen as positive legacies.
That major bond issues failed, twice, for more expansive sets of projects hobbled the mayor’s conception of himself as master-builder. Yet over three terms, particularly in downtown, a renaissance occurred on Holden’s watch.
The recent defection of some Albemarle Corp. executives to Charlotte, North Carolina, based in part of the latter’s “big-city feel,” should not obscure the extraordinary increase in livability in downtown; while the city-parish is not directly involved in some of the projects, they have occurred with the blessing of Holden and will be seen as turning points.
One day. For now, though, after a newspaper story noted the difficulties in downtown development — we have levees and railroad tracks and other obstacles that St. Louis, or Memphis or Chattanooga, Tennessee, don’t have — Holden held a defensive and self-serving news conference, criticizing The Advocate journalists whom he refused to talk to for the story.
There is a technical term for this in politics, calling in an airstrike on yourself. Holden’s thin-skinned response drew attention to problems and obstacles, and his attitude, instead of his accomplishments.
Holden’s project now is to run for lieutenant governor this fall, a black Democrat seeking office in a state that has rejected D’s on ballots statewide in recent years. Perhaps his film advocacy will help, as will his record in economic development. But it’s still an uphill battle.
And if it is lost, what does Holden do with himself in the 13 months remaining in his third term? Pick fights, or push progress?
Stan Tiner: The retirement of a famed editor of newspapers in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, Stan Tiner, leaves our business a bit less fun. Tiner stepped down during the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He and his gutsy staff of the Biloxi Sun-Herald were heroes of journalism during the hurricane that so devastated our friends and neighbors along the Gulf Coast.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.