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Council member Lamont Cole, who introduced Item 47, is given a pat on the back and words of encouragement by colleague Buddy Amoroso after the item was voted to be deleted, Wednesday, June 13, 2018, during a meeting of the metro council at City Hall in downtown Baton Rouge, La. The item would have permitted bars and other businesses to continue to sell alcohol from 2:00 A.M. - 4:00 A.M. The Item was voted to be deleted by a 7-4 vote.

Four Democrats on Baton Rouge’s Metro Council announced Tuesday they would not vote for anyone to replace their recently deceased Republican colleague, Buddy Amoroso — a declaration that outraged Republicans and Democrats alike and threatened a tradition of asking surviving spouses to step in when a council member dies.

Amoroso was killed June 30 when a motorist struck him and a friend while they were bicycling in West Feliciana Parish. The late councilman's wake and funeral services last week drew more than 1,000 mourners — Metro Council members and City Hall staffers among them — who remembered Amoroso for his friendliness and his respect for those who politically disagreed with his Republican politics.

The council has become known for 7-5 votes, tipped toward its Republican and white majorities. Council Democrats would like to see an even split, and that could happen, depending on who is appointed to the post. But while some have encouraged Amoroso’s wife, Denise, to take his post on an interim basis, four of the five Democrats on the Metro Council sent a contrary message Tuesday.

Democrats Chauna Banks, LaMont Cole, Donna Collins-Lewis and Erika Green released a statement Tuesday that said they “made a collaborative decision to abstain from voting” to fill the seat that represents southeastern Baton Rouge. Their statement said they would “make no further comment on this matter at this time” and none of the four returned phone calls Tuesday.

Late Tuesday night, Cole issued this statement on behalf of the four council members: "Prior to Denise Amoroso making any public comments, a number of people residing in district eight reached out to us relative to being appointed to the vacant seat. We wanted all of them to know we will not vote to appoint anyone to the seat. Now that we know Mrs. Amoroso is strongly considering filling the seat, we too look forward to having a face -to -face discussion with her about the best path forward in terms of representation for the district. We will revisit our decision after our conversation with Denise Amoroso."

Their initial statement immediately sent shock waves through City Hall and Baton Rouge political circles, with current and former council members blasting the announcement as uncouth, disrespectful and dishonorable toward Amoroso’s legacy. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat, responded by saying this was a time to put aside politics.

Denise Amoroso released a statement to The Advocate early Tuesday evening about the announcement from Democrats.

“I enjoyed seeing Donna, Erika and LaMont at Buddy’s funeral services," Denise Amoroso said in her statement. "My family and I appreciated them taking time to attend. They saw, as I did, the tremendous love and support for Buddy and all that he stood for. Politics has its place and time and that is not today. I look forward to visiting with each of them, and Chauna, soon to discuss the best way to represent the voters of District 8, just as Buddy would’ve done.”

Broome said it's important to remember that "we are still mourning" Amoroso's death and pledged her support for Denise Amoroso to fill the seat.

"We have a longstanding tradition and precedent in which members of the metro council allow the family of the deceased member to honor their loved one by being named as the temporary replacement until an election is called," the mayor-president said in a statement. "I cannot think of any reason why this should not be the path forward in this instance, if that's the wish of his widow, Denise. There are times when we must put politics aside for the greater good of the community and I strongly believe this is one of those times."

The only Democrat and African-American on the council not included in the other Democrats' announcement was Tara Wicker, who was visibly angered over it Tuesday. Wicker said the statement showed a lack of courtesy for Amoroso’s wife and family, adding that a long-standing tradition of the Metro Council is to give spouses and family members the opportunity to fill terms when sitting council members die.

Wicker said she understood the desire among Democrats to turn the council into an even 6-6 split with Republican counterparts, but that her fellow Democrats were making a mistake.

“Are there inequities? Yes. Should we fix them? Yes. But utilizing something so horrendous to the family as a way to make a statement is just not right,” Wicker said.

Public relations consultant Mike Smith, who has acted as a liaison for Amoroso’s family since his death, said Tuesday that Denise Amoroso is “strongly considering” filling his council seat. If appointed, Denise Amoroso would keep her husband’s seat for the next nine months and a special election in March would permanently fill the seat.

“She felt like Buddy’s legacy needed to be represented until the next election, and then anyone would have the opportunity to fill the seat,” Smith said.

Amoroso won his second term in 2016 with 66 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Wicker said the Democrats want to force Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to fill the seat, which could happen if the Metro Council is unable to fill it by July 20. The council is expected to vote July 18 on the interim appointment, which will require seven votes.

Wicker pointed out that there’s no guarantee that the governor’s administration would appoint a Democrat to the seat in Amoroso’s absence. She said she would happily vote for Denise Amoroso to fill the vacant seat.

“I believe in my heart it’s the right and moral thing to do,” Wicker said.

Other council members were also furious about the proclamation from the four, especially because both Cole and Green started their terms on the Metro Council when previous council members moved onto the Louisiana Legislature and left open seats. Metro Council members in 2016 appointed Cole and Green to their seats at the requests of previous Metro Council members Ronnie Edwards and C. Denise Marcelle.

Republican Metro Councilman Trae Welch said the four Democrats “collectively spit on the grave of their colleague.” Republican Councilman Dwight Hudson said he was disgusted by the announcement and that he was reflecting on Amoroso’s willingness to work across political and racial lines.

Councilman Matt Watson, also a Republican, said he hopes the Democrats “clarify that this was some kind of mistake.”

“I don’t understand how politics can try to disgrace the memory of a fallen council person and be downright rude in the face of his widow,” Watson said.

And organizers for the proposed city of St. George seized on the statement Tuesday afternoon as an example of "how dysfunctional, partisan, and now dishonorable our city government and leadership has become." Lionel Rainey III, who's on the St. George leadership team and a former consultant for Amoroso, called on Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome to condemn the statement from the Democrats.

Banks posted on Facebook before releasing the statement Tuesday that "choosing a progressive Democrat to fill the vacant District 8 council seat would be a tremendous blow to the St. George effort."

Gary Chambers, who publishes The Rouge Collection and is a frequent council attendee, posted on his website July 6 — the day of Amoroso’s funeral — that Amoroso’s open seat gave a “historic advantage” to black council members.

“The ball is in the court of the black democrats on the council to influence the make up of the metro council moving forward,” Chambers wrote. “If the democrats remain united, they can force a potential historic change for the city of Baton Rouge.”

Former Metro Councilman John Delgado, a Republican who formerly hosted a radio show with Chambers, said at Amoroso’s wake July 5 that he hoped Denise Amoroso would fill the seat. Delgado said at the time that Amoroso “would not want someone with political ambitions” taking the seat.

On Tuesday, Delgado said he had never seen anything like the Democrats’ announcement and that it was a new low for civility in Baton Rouge politics.

“It’s absolutely distasteful, it’s really the lowest of the low to take advantage of the death of a colleague to score political points,” Delgado said. “It’s just uncouth.”

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​