The contentious battle over who should fill Buddy Amoroso’s Metro Council seat ended Thursday evening as his widow, Denise Amoroso, secured the appointment amid flareups and emotions.
Denise Amoroso will spend the next nine months serving as the metro councilwoman for the southeastern Baton Rouge district of voters who overwhelmingly elected her husband to his second term in office nearly two years ago. Democrats stood by a plan Thursday to abstain from voting for anyone to fill the seat, but Denise Amoroso secured six votes from Republicans and one vote from Democrat Tara Wicker. Three other Democrats abstained. Council member Erika Green, also a Democrat, was absent.
“A lot of people have a lot of concerns about Baton Rouge, the divisions that we have,” Amoroso said after the lengthy meeting, adding she thought the dialogue was important. “Everybody wants the same thing.”
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The decision came after 10 days of infighting among council members over whether Denise Amoroso was the correct choice to fill the role, as some saw the vacant seat as an opportunity to try to appoint a Democrat to represent the conservative district. The vast majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting represented that viewpoint, saying it's time for the Metro Council to do away with tradition and to choose another African-American to represent the community.
Buddy Amoroso, a Republican, was killed in late June when he and another bike rider were struck by a motorist in West Feliciana Parish. On Thursday, the Baton Rouge council chambers were adorned with photos of Amoroso and a vase of red roses marked his seat.
Denise Amoroso, who teaches third, fourth and fifth grades at Christ Presbyterian School, attended the public hearing with her family. She teared up upon seeing the photos of her husband when she entered the chambers, and a group of friends and supporters immediately rushed to greet her. Her children and grandchildren sat alongside her during the meeting.
What should have been a straightforward appointment to the East Baton Rouge Metro Council for a short-term replacement for Republican Buddy Am…
Amoroso is a member of Blue Star Mothers and a longtime Woman’s Hospital volunteer.
The divisions among council members were deeply apparent even at the meeting's outset. Four council Democrats announced last week they would not vote for anyone to fill Amoroso's seat, which set off outraged rebukes from Republicans and Democrats alike.
But the majority of attendees speaking at Thursday's meeting said they opposed the idea of legacy appointments to the Metro Council. They also put pressure on Wicker, the lone Democrat who said she would support Denise Amoroso, to abstain from voting as well.
Many speakers said the Metro Council seems rigged against black Democrats because the majority of council members are white Republicans. And they said they saw this appointment as a chance for the Metro Council to become more representative of black constituents.
“What this situation’s really about is the Republicans on this council seeking to maintain control," said the Rev. Reginald Pitcher, the former head of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Anything that will benefit the African American community, the white Republicans on this council vote it down. … You conduct yourselves like a bunch of racists.”
Some also questioned comments from council members about Denise Amoroso being the only person who requested an appointment to the seat. Antoine Pierce, who ran for the District 8 seat in 2016, was among those who said they wanted the seat. Also, Councilman LaMont Cole also nominated James Gilmore, the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging's chief administrative officer, for the seat.
Many said they should not be maligned for wanting to buck tradition, while council members of both parties agreed the Metro Council should come up with a better process for short-term appointments.
“To chart a different course is not immoral, nor is it ungodly,” said Walter “Geno” McLaughlin, who spoke during the public hearing. “To me, it’s quite the opposite. It’s as brave as it is unpopular.”
A move by Metro Council Democrats seeking to prevent the body from making the interim appointment to Republican Buddy Amoroso’s vacant council…
A few speakers jumped to Denise Amoroso's defense, saying those who opposed her appointment did not know her. These speakers touted her virtues and said she’s well-equipped to hold office.
"She’s a very independent woman who can stand on her own two feet," said Sunny Senft. "Everyone’s assuming they know how she’s going to vote, but I can assure you, she has set me straight a few times.”
The meeting got off to a rocky start when Councilwoman Chauna Banks asked to deliver a presentation and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson would not allow it. Wilson then called for the council members to take a recess, and Banks gave her presentation when they returned.
She walked through most pieces of legislation she had tried to pass through the Metro Council over the past two years. She repeatedly pointed out that Republicans — including Buddy Amoroso — voted against her measures, which included requirements for Baton Rouge Police Department officers to live inside city limits and backing a for-profit health center that pitched an emergency room in north Baton Rouge.
Councilman Dwight Hudson objected to Banks' presentation multiple times, calling it "a mockery of the public meeting process" and "completely out of order." But Wilson allowed the presentation before the public hearing began.
Cole also read a statement before the public hearing that referenced the Democrats' previous announcement about abstaining from the vote.
Rather than walk back those words — as many asked the Democrats to do over the past week — Cole questioned the harshness and vitriol of the reactions from Republicans on the Metro Council. He said people need to recognize that the partisan and racial splits on the Metro Council do not mirror that of the city-parish. And he said Democrats wanted to move on from the debate.
By the time that council members began their own public comments, some said they regretted the mudslinging over the past 10 days. Councilman Trae Welch apologized for a Facebook post that likened the actions from council Democrats to spitting on Amoroso's grave.
“The discussion tonight has been about a lot of things," said Councilman Dwight Hudson. "We’ve talked about a myriad of topics. But the item before us is about the best way to represent District 8.”
Wicker said she would not be threatened by those who repeatedly called her out during the meeting, as activist Arthur "Silky Slim" Reed called her "Judas" and said he could make life uncomfortable for her in her district.
Wicker said her husband and six children are the true joys of her life, and that she does not depend on her council seat for joy. “I can go home and be very happy.”
Cole said the tragedy of Amoroso’s death should not prevent Baton Rouge from diving into discussions about race and political representation.
“The question I ask right now tonight is when is the right time to bring up these issues,” Cole said. “Is it today? Is it tomorrow?”
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis spoke of the insults and threats she said she has received since announcing she would abstain on the vote, adding that she has “been called everything but a child of God.”
Wicker stressed that she understands the desire for an even split between black and white council members, but also held up a paper with her blood and Welch's blood side-by-side to show they are the same inside. She said it’s a lesson more people in Baton Rouge need to take to heart.
“My question is, my point is, is this the right vehicle to do that?" Wicker asked. "The win that we seek is not the win that we’ll get.”