Six of the seven candidates in Baton Rouge's mayoral race were able Monday to discuss their proposals on some common threads: policing, St. George and coronavirus mitigation.
But the mayoral forum hosted by the Press Club of Baton Rouge took an interesting turn when the candidates asked questions of one another, an opportunity some took to take some shots at one another.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle and Metro Council member Matt Watson both took incumbent Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome to task for claiming credit for requiring Baton Rouge police officers to wear body cameras as part of her "transformative" police reform.
And Jordan Piazza, the youngest candidate at age 32 in the crowded field of contenders, said out former state Rep. Steve Carter's age, in his mid 70s, as a drawback to him being the effective and innovative leader Piazza says the city-parish needs for the next four years.
Broome, a Democrat, is fighting for a second term against Republicans Watson, Carter and Piazza, Baton Rouge attorney E. Eric Guirard, an Independent, and Marcelle, a Democrat.
Not at the forum was candidate Frank Smith III, who will also appear on the ballot for mayor-president but has previously said he doesn't really want the job and that he ran to call attention to the issues he feels the city-parish must address to improve quality of life.
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The Press Club's forum was held the same day the Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced it will host its own mayoral forum on broadcast television Oct. 13 with just the candidates who received more than 5% of the support in an independent poll BRAC commissioned.
That poll, conducted by JMC Analytics, has incumbent Broome in the lead with 41%, Carter in second with 14% and Watson in a close third with 13% of the support. At least 6% of the people polled said they would support Marcelle and 19% said they were still undecided.
BRAC said it will release the full results of the poll Oct. 14. No other background on how and when the poll was available Monday.
Piazza, Guirard and Smith polled at 4%, 2% and less than 1%, respectively, which means they aren't invited to BRAC's forum.
Guirard and Piazza on Monday both expressed frustration over that.
"My biggest beef today is with BRAC," Guirard said. "We're not being allowed at a televised debate. That's a problem."
Piazza in his opening remarks to the Press Club pointed out that a percentage of BRAC's annual operating budget comes from the city-parish, implying that's why Broome and Watson have spots secured for the broadcast debate.
After nearly 45 minutes, the six candidates got the opportunity to ask each other a question. The candidates drew names before the forum.
Broome asked Watson to justify why the Metro Council felt the need last week to adopt a resolution he sponsored to reopen bars in the city-parish after coronavirus shutdowns when she had already reached out to the state about reopening bars after the parish met certain mitigation benchmarks.
"That turned out to be a debacle for the community," Broome said to Watson. "I believe you want the best for economic recovery, but why so much chaos around the issue?"
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The Metro Council last week had to hold two special meetings after they failed to muster the seven votes needed the first time to adopt the measure — nearly half of the council members were absent. The measure was unanimously passed on Friday, but by that time the state had already honored Broome's initial request for bars to reopen.
In the minute Watson was given to reply, he recapped the chain of events that led up to the failed first vote.
"We could only get seven council members to bother to come in and do their jobs on a Zoom meeting," Watson responded.
Broome was later in the hot seat when Marcelle asked her to explain why she's sending out campaign flyers claiming she was instrumental in getting the Baton Rouge Police Department body cameras when it was work Marcelle had done when she was on the Metro Council that brought the initiative to fruition.
"I proposed the body camera ordinance in 2015," Marcelle said. "I chaired the first committee. All you had to do was put it in the (city-parish) budget to buy them."
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Broome said she has repeatedly acknowledged the work Marcelle did on the front end regarding body cameras.
"You had the ball, but I served as the quarterback and took it over the line," Broome said.
But Watson, in his question to Marcelle moments later, chided Broome for dropping the ball, calling attention to the fact that she failed to use the federal grant money that had been secured to purchase the body cams.
"How would you work with the federal government to get more grants for this community?" Watson said to Marcelle.
"Sometimes it's easier to take credit after the work has already been done," Marcelle shot back.
And Piazza asked Carter to explain what leadership he could bring to the city-parish, noting his age as a negative.
Carter, who's 76, noted former President Ronald Reagan was "fairly old" when he became president and that he did "a good job." Reagan was 69 in 1981 when he was sworn into office for his first term.
"I'm going to hire (E Eric) Guirard as my fitness expert so I'll be in peak condition," Carter quipped before touting his record in the state Legislature. "I'm willing to take the chance and be bold and improve the quality of life for everyone in the parish."