A move by Metro Council Democrats seeking to prevent the body from making the interim appointment to Republican Buddy Amoroso’s vacant council seat was a miscalculation that backfired, political watchers and operatives said Wednesday.
The Metro Council is expected to vote July 19 on the appointment to fill the remainder of Amoroso’s term until the city-parish holds an election next March. Amoroso was struck and killed late last month while riding his bicycle in West Feliciana Parish. His widow, Denise Amoroso, is contemplating seeking the appointment.
But four of the council's five Democrats stunned their colleagues and other officials Tuesday when they announced they would not vote for anyone to fill the seat, though it was widely known Denise Amoroso was considering the appointment.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, the only Democrat who did not join the effort, said the Democrats were attempting to force a split vote and make Gov. John Bel Edwards, also a Democrat, appoint Amoroso’s replacement. Edwards' deputy chief of staff, Richard Carbo, said Wednesday the governor had no knowledge of the council members' intentions.
Their proclamation immediately prompted outrage, and Councilman LaMont Cole released a statement later Tuesday evening that said the group would meet with Amoroso’s widow and “revisit our decision.”
A day after the City Hall spectacle, several observers were still trying to make sense of it, and examining its short- and long-term implications for Cole, Chauna Banks, Erika Green, Donna Collins-Lewis and the rest of the Metro Council. Some said they understood the underlying desire of Democrats to force the Metro Council into an even racial and partisan split. But even those who understood the reasoning questioned the “calculus,” as Southern University political science professor Albert Samuels phrased it.
Four Democrats on Baton Rouge’s Metro Council announced Tuesday they would not vote for anyone to replace their recently deceased Republican c…
“I understand their frustration, but I don’t get their math,” said Samuels, who served on Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s transition committees. “There are some fights that are politically and actually morally and ethically worth fighting, even if you know you’re going to lose. This is not one of them. So, I don’t understand why they picked this fight.”
At most, the Metro Council appointee for Amoroso’s seat would serve nine months unless that person ran for and won an election in the deeply conservative district in southeastern Baton Rouge.
“You take it from a political standpoint and it just looks like a naked, counterproductive, maybe even destructive power play,” said Bob Mann, an LSU mass communication professor and former communications director for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. “It’s hard to imagine how it ends well — even if they get what they want, a Democrat to replace Amoroso — that person would be so compromised and seen as illegitimate.”
Republican council members who tore into their Democratic colleagues over the statement said they saw it as a sign of disrespect toward Denise Amoroso. Though not written in any law or the plan of government, the Metro Council has traditionally given preference to spouses to fill seats when a council member dies.
Patty Jo Robique was appointed to the Metro Council in 1991 after her husband, Mike Robique, died during his term. The same thing happened in 2001, when the council appointed Martha Jane Tassin to her husband’s seat after he died. Both Patty Jo Robique and Martha Jane Tassin went on to run for, and win, terms on the council after their interim appointments. Baton Rouge even had a female mayor-president for a brief time in 1956, when Mary Jones Webb served the final seven months of the term of her husband, Jesse Webb, who died in a plane crash.
Sharon Weston Broome recently won the distinction of being the first female who East Baton Rouge voters elected to the parish's top leadership…
The practice of spouses — especially wives — stepping into their partners' unexpired political roles has not been unusual in Louisiana. Lindy Boggs famously ran for her husband’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974 after Hale Boggs disappeared on a plane ride in Alaska; she went on to a successful political career. Rose Long was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat of her husband, Huey Long, after he was assassinated in 1935. And Catherine Small Long was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1985 after the death of her husband, Gillis.
Cole said in his statement that he and the other council members wanted to meet Denise Amoroso “now that we know Mrs. Amoroso is strongly considering filling the seat.” But Republican Metro Councilman Matt Watson replied to the email, a reply sent to its more than 50 recipients, with a screenshot of a text he had sent to Green the day before the Democrats took their stance, telling Green that Denise Amoroso wanted the seat.
Wicker said Wednesday she had received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from people of all races for her decision to break with fellow Democrats and to back Denise Amoroso.
“It struck a chord because of the timing,” Michael Beychok, a Democratic political consultant, said of Tuesday's statement. “If you set aside the reasons behind it and the politics behind it and just examine the timing of it, when they made the statement, it was about 72 hours after the man had been laid to rest.”
Is a power play worthy of the U.S. Capitol the right way to approach the Metro Council in East Baton Rouge Parish? No, and it is that lack of …
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Democratic state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a former councilwoman, said she would have met with Denise Amoroso before making a public announcement about who she would support for the seat. And she said the council members should have spoken directly to each other about their intentions and spoken to the governor’s office if their hope was for Edwards to become involved.
Marcelle called the infighting on the council worrisome.
“I just don’t like the way I saw the fight happen,” Marcelle said. “It came out muddy, it came out messy. And Baton Rouge is better than that. You don’t want her (Amoroso) to be placed on the council and then she feels like there’s ill feeling toward her.”
Marcelle recalled when she moved to the legislature and council members bucked her initial request to appoint former Capital Area Transit System board president Isaiah Marshall in her place on the council. Marshall had resigned from the CATS board after The Advocate reported he was aware of, but did not alert law enforcement about, another board member using agency money to pay personal bills.
More than 1,000 visitors Thursday remembered Anthony “Buddy” Amoroso — the East Baton Rouge metro councilman killed on a June 30 bike ride — f…
Marcelle regrouped and suggested the council appoint Cole instead. At that 2016 meeting, Buddy Amoroso asked to appoint Sandy Lemoine to the seat after Marcelle suggested Cole. While the voting record from the recording of the meeting shows Amoroso did not vote for Cole to fill the seat, the Council Administrator’s Office confirmed Wednesday that Amoroso requested at the time that his vote be changed in the system reflect a “yes” for Cole.
The meeting minutes, which the Council Administrator’s Office said are accurate, confirm that Amoroso voted for Cole, and Amoroso also requested a unanimous appointment for him after the initial vote. Banks did not vote for Cole, either.
Samuels, the Southern University professor, said Tuesday's message from the Democrats is a symptom of a larger problem: Too many black people in Baton Rouge feel their voices are not represented on the majority-white Metro Council.
“This didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Samuels said. “And, you know, the Republicans should ask themselves why do you think these black Democrats wanted to do this in the first place? It’s not just because they’re black and they don’t like you.”
Mann, the LSU professor, said people in Louisiana are crying out for less polarization.
“It’s that kind of partisan politics that I think makes people so disgusted with the system and is going to make it so much harder for them to do those jobs,” Mann said. “It’s going to turn a lot of people off and delegitimize this council.”