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Sharon Weston Broome and Matt Watson

Councilman Matt Watson is blaming Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration for bungling a $605,000 federal grant and losing out on a first-of-its-kind tire shredder — but Broome counters that Watson is all talk and no action, and says she's not responsible for his failures. 

Both are candidates for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, and the fight between them, which played out in competing press releases Tuesday morning, is one of the first direct confrontations in the race.

Watson, who spearheaded the tire shredder project on the Metro Council, said he worked tirelessly to secure the grant and establish a location that would "remove blight and improve public sanitation." He said the debacle marks "another opportunity lost" by Broome to better the parish. 

"We made this as easy as possible for Sharon Weston Broome's administration to simply follow the process on behalf of the residents here — and even that was too difficult," Watson said. 

Broome responded that it is "typical in political seasons for candidates to blame the opposition for their failures," and said that Watson "had neither the will nor the capability to make this project a reality."

"Councilman Watson prefers to talk about ideas while letting others do the work," Broome said. 

The tire-shredding project, funded by a $605,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, once seemed like a promising solution to addressing the thousands of tires dumped illegally in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

But, for much of the last year, the Metro Council struggled to come to an agreement on a suitable location for the facility. And, after the Mayor's Office missed a Sept. 1 deadline to purchase the equipment, a local contractor pulled out of the project, citing political and bureaucratic dysfunction

Broome said her administration only intervened in the council-led project after it reached a stalemate "due to Councilman Watson’s inability to work across party lines with his fellow council members."

For months, the project faced headwinds on the Metro Council, primarily from Chauna Banks, a Democratic councilwoman who protested Watson's original proposal to place the shredder in her predominantly Black, low-income district. Meetings on the matter frequently turned heated.

Watson said the project was repeatedly stymied by council members who were uninterested in bettering the community. And, regardless of what the council did, the missed deadline was ultimately the executive branch's fault, he argued.

"There were hurdles put before me at every turn by a political establishment that would rather wring its hands than take action for people here in our community," Watson said. 

Mark Armstrong, a spokesperson for Broome, said previously the Mayor's Office didn't meet the Sept. 1 deadline because it was waiting for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the custodian of the reimbursable grant, for reassurance that the agreement was still in place. 

The other challengers in the race for mayor-president include Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Democrat; former state Rep. Steve Carter, a Republican; businessman Jordan Piazza, a Republican; Baton Rouge attorney "E Eric" Guirard, an Independent; and newcomer Frank Smith III, a Republican. 


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater