State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, announced Thursday she’s entering the crowded race for East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president, saying she wants to restructure the way the city-parish currently pays for public services.
Marcelle said she expects her large family and wide network of friends, many of whom were on hand for her announcement at the Marriott hotel, to help build a groundswell of support. As the eighth candidate to announce a bid for mayor-president, Marcelle said she expects to run a ground campaign that draws on her base of support from north Baton Rouge.
Marcelle, a former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member, is the fourth black Democrat with ties to north Baton Rouge entering the race. Other candidates looking to capture votes from the area include former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome; former Metro Councilman Byron Sharper, who lost a council election to Marcelle in 2008; and former professional football player and former Southern University Athletic Director Greg LaFleur.
In announcing her candidacy, Marcelle said she’d been asked repeatedly to consider running for the post. Among the candidates, Marcelle has been one of the most outspoken and left-leaning.
She successfully pushed against a movement to open a temporary misdemeanor jail last fall in Baton Rouge, asking instead for amnesty days during which people could clear outstanding warrants.
She also unsuccessfully advocated for a “fairness ordinance” that would have prohibited businesses from discriminating against LGBT people.
Marcelle did not steer clear of controversy with her announcement, saying she wants to do away with dedicated taxes that have been approved by voters in East Baton Rouge Parish and distribute the money “based on need and not on want.”
Dedicated taxes pay for a variety of services, including libraries, parks, mosquito abatement, buses, emergency medical services, public schools and some fire departments.
Marcelle said she wants to create one property tax that city-parish government is responsible for distributing. She argued that agencies with the best and loudest lobbyists are more likely to receive dedicated taxes than those with less organization.
“If we equally distribute those taxes, that will prevent people from coming back, from organization to organization, coming back and asking for additional tax millages,” Marcelle said.
Given that dedicated taxes are approved by voters, Marcelle’s plan to do away with them would hinge on voters rejecting the taxes and thereby undedicating them. City-parish Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said tax dedications can be changed only by a vote of the people.
Marcelle also said she may leave taxes dedicated for schools out of her plans.
Marcelle is a freshman state representative and ran for election after the unexpected death in August of state Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge. Prior to that, she spent seven years as a Metro Council member. She said she is not worried about the little time she has spent in the Legislature because she would still be representing her constituents as mayor, only in a different capacity.
During her time on the Metro Council, Marcelle pushed for a successful “ban the box” policy so convicted felons do not have to reveal their criminal history on initial city-parish job applications. She also pushed similar legislation at the state level.
Marcelle also advocated for the Baton Rouge Police Department to make officers wear body cameras. The department is in the midst of a body camera pilot program, and Marcelle sits on a committee for it. She said at her announcement that she also wants more police academies and economic development to deter crime.
Marcelle said she hopes to raise $200,000 to launch her into a runoff. She said she expects her campaign to rely more on volunteer efforts than on fundraising.
Among her supporters at her announcement were her well-known personal injury attorney boss, Gordon McKernan, and the local union officer for the Capital Area Transit System, Christopher Huddleston.
“With the political climate that we have right now, not just in Baton Rouge but all over the nation, sometimes you’ve got to talk real low,” said incoming Baker Police Chief Carl Dunn. “Sometimes you’ve got to shout. And we’ve got the person that’s going to shout right here, and that’s Denise Marcelle.”
Marcelle also will face state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central; Republican Metro Councilman John Delgado; former Republican Metro Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois; and real estate agent Darryl Gissel, who is running as an independent.