Two of Tara Wicker’s constituents and the president of the Baton Rouge NAACP filed a recall petition against her Thursday, ratcheting up the fire beneath a Metro Council member who last week heard critics compare her to Judas and supporters say she set a brave example of compromise.
Wicker cast the deciding vote last week as the council named Denise Amoroso, a white Republican, to temporarily take her late husband’s seat. Many complained Wicker should have supported a black Democrat like her, even though Amoroso's district covers a conservative area of southeast Baton Rouge.
Thursday, those who filed the petition said the term-limited council member hasn’t addressed their problems as promised. Residents Cynthia Jones and Peter Menson filed the petition with NAACP President Byron Sharper, though Sharper does not live in Wicker’s district.
“She doesn’t communicate with the public,” Jones said. “I’m not angry with Tara, but I want to see some progress in south Baton Rouge. Everything is being built downtown and at LSU.”
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The petition organizers now have 180 days to gather signatures from one-third of the registered voters in Wicker’s council district, which encompasses Old South Baton Rouge, downtown and parts of north Baton Rouge.
The city-parish registrar of voters would confirm the veracity of the signatures once the petitioners turn them in. If the registrar agrees that enough people have signed, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office would be authorized to call for a recall election.
Wicker responded Thursday by saying that she has helped to build some of Old South Baton Rouge’s most important improvements.
She listed recent additions to the community that include the building of the River South apartment complex, revitalizing more than 30 adjudicated properties, additions of community gardens, construction of the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, paving new sidewalks, adding lighting to Expressway Park and more.
“I’m literally at everything representing the community,” Wicker said.
But Menson said he wishes Wicker would host more town halls and that she would understand what people want to see in their community. As he sat in the lobby of the Secretary of State’s office on Essen Lane, Menson described watching old South Baton Rouge crumble over his lifetime and the community’s many needs.
“Is there a place for kids to stay out of trouble?” he asked. “Are there grocery stores? Are there drug stores where we can get prescriptions filled?”
Jones also lamented Wicker’s absence at the Leo S. Butler Community Center, where Jones said she volunteers. Jones said she expected those who spend time at the Butler Center to be among the first in line to sign the petition because they are tired of the lack of programming and the amount of grime in the building.
Wicker said she splits her time among City Hall, the Butler Center and the community. But she said she is more productive — and able to accomplish more on behalf of her district — when she is not sitting behind a desk. And Wicker also voted this week in favor of a recent budget supplement in Baton Rouge that sets aside money to attract grocers to areas without sufficient access to fresh food, which includes Old South Baton Rouge.
Sharper said Wicker’s vote on Amoroso’s appointment last week immediately triggered some people to want to join the recall effort. The appointment became far more contentious than originally expected. Speakers lined up for hours at a Metro Council meeting to tell members that the traditionally Republican district should be represented by a Democrat.
Council Democrats Chauna Banks, LaMont Cole and Donna Collins-Lewis abstained from the vote on the appointment, as they had promised in the days following Buddy Amoroso’s death in a West Feliciana Parish bicycle accident. Democrat Erika Green missed the council meeting; she, too, had promised to abstain. All four are black, as is Wicker.
Others, however, pushed back against the notion that they should appoint someone to the seat who was not representative of the district.
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Republican council members pointed out that Buddy Amoroso won his most recent election with 66 percent of the vote and argued that a Democrat would not represent the wishes of the southeastern Baton Rouge community Amoroso served.
Wicker told those who pressured her at the council meeting that her vote did not define who she was as a person. She said her family accepts her no matter what, and that she did not depend on affirmations from certain community members for her happiness.
Some speakers at the meeting — including fellow councilwoman Banks — repeatedly likened Wicker to Judas, who betrayed Jesus ahead of the Crucifixion. Others said, though, that she should be commended for reaching across the aisle.
Referencing the NAACP’s involvement in the recall campaign, Wicker said Thursday that it’s unfortunate that any organization meant to lead the community “will use these kinds of issues that are really human issues and are not race issues as an opportunity further divide our community and miseducate people.”
In a statement issued later in the day, Wicker said if Baton Rouge wanted to be "one city," people had to be "selfless and loving."
"It saddens me that things have come to this," she wrote. "However, my passion has always been about doing what is best for the people of Baton Rouge. That means what is best for all people. People of every color."