Rep. C. Denise Marcelle

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle

C. Denise Marcelle says Baton Rouge needs a proactive mayor-president.

That was most recently apparent to the state representative back in July, when a series of raucous, loosely organized parties along Plank Road turned deadly, a mass shooting killing one and wounding several others.

"I kept thinking the city would shut them down," Marcelle said. "I would not have let those parties go on for week after week after week."

The weekend following the violence, Marcelle said, she went to Plank Road herself and told the party-goers to either disperse or face arrest for blocking private property. 

For Marcelle, the episode is a prime example of what she says is a lack of leadership at City Hall. She says she's running for mayor-president, in part, to fill that vacuum and to tackle issues before they escalate — a contrast she draws with incumbent Sharon Weston Broome, whom she calls "reactive." 

"I confront issues head on. I don't run and hide from them," Marcelle said. "(Broome) plays it safe. She stands on the sidelines and waits."

Marcelle, a Democrat, first ran for mayor-president in 2016, but failed to make the runoff. She was the third highest vote-getter in the primary, garnering roughly 25,000 votes in a crowded field of 12 contenders. 

If she's elected this go-round, Marcelle said, she'd work to implement what she calls an S.O.S. platform: supporting businesses, offering traffic solutions, and standing up to crime. 

She said she wants to see bus rapid transit from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, a new bridge over the Mississippi River and public-private partnerships that'll connect the municipality with its neighboring parishes. 

That includes exploring proposals like the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal Mobility Plan, or BUMP, a high-speed toll road — rejected by a state panel in 2015 for its $400 million price tag — that would have created a new path around an often-congested Baton Rouge. 

Marcelle said the city-parish should also look into stricter penalties for commercial properties that fail to cut their grass or keep their premises maintained, citing Cortana Mall as an eyesore dragging down property values. 

On public safety, Marcelle said the city needs to find a way to fund pay raises for police officers in order to attract the most qualified applicants. She also said the city needs "true community policing" where police actually get out their cruisers and have contact with the community. 

Marcelle, who represents House District 61 in the state legislature, prides herself on her connection to her constituents. She freely passes out her cell phone number — and even recently read it out on the radio. Her daughter, Demeka Underwood, said her mother's phone rings constantly from "from 6 in the morning to 10 at night." 

"I'm not afraid of my community. I relate to them," Marcelle said.

Now nearly three decades sober, Marcelle, 59, once struggled with a drug addiction and nearly died when her then-husband stabbed her in the heart. She grew up in the Eden Park neighborhood and gave birth to her first child as a 15-year-old at Capitol Senior High School. She graduated the next year and worked her way to becoming a paralegal and later a certified public notary. She now works in community outreach for the Gordon McKernan law firm. 

"I know that you can be anybody that you want to be if you work hard," Marcelle said. "I never stopped telling my daughter to be the best she could be regardless of her ZIP code."

Marcelle fashions herself as "the voice" of Baton Rouge and became a familiar face for many in 2016, when Alton Sterling was fatally shot by a BRPD officer shortly after Marcelle announced a bid for mayor-president. The scuffle occurred outside a convenience store in her legislative district and she was a near-constant presence at the demonstrations that followed. 

Marcelle was first elected to the Metro Council in 2008 and while there she championed an initiative to equip police officers with body cameras — an effort she highlights as an example of getting ahead of issues before they intensify. 

After she was elected to the statehouse in 2015, she spearheaded "ban the box" legislation aimed at giving ex-convicts a greater chance of re-entering the workforce. The law prevents state government employers from asking about past criminal history on a job application.

A recent campaign video posted to Instagram cites these achievements with lyrics riffing off rapper Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage": "Queen Denise, mayor for the streets, better vote for her if you want peace in your city."

William Daniel, the former chief administrative officer for Kip Holden, has thrown his support behind Marcelle. He said she "always keeps her word" and has a "passion for getting things done." 

Marcelle is primarily competing for votes in north Baton Rouge with incumbent Sharon Weston Broome. Marcelle said her "feathers were ruffled" by a recent campaign flyer from Broome that listed the body cameras among the mayor's achievements. Marcelle said that's dishonest, and argued that Broome's only role was funding the program. 

"I thought that she was supposed to be the Christian, conservative candidate," Marcelle said. "It's very disingenuous." 

Broome's campaign manager, Sabrina Galloway, said in a statement that Marcelle "certainly helped advocate for policing reforms and policy changes" while on Metro Council, but said it was Broome "who brought it over the finish line."

Others challenging Broome, a Democrat, are former state legislator Steve Carter, a Republican; Metro Council member Matt Watson, a Republican; businessman Jordan Piazza, a Republican; Baton Rouge attorney "E Eric" Guirard, an Independent; and Frank Smith III, a Republican. 

The Advocate will host a candidate forum on Sept. 15 in partnership with Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The forum, which will run 90 minutes, will be shown live on The Advocate's and LPB's websites starting at 10 a.m.


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater