Voters in Central sent a clear message in Tuesday's election: They wanted across-the-board change in the city's leadership.
The mayor and all four incumbents seeking additional terms on the City Council were ousted in the election, with many succumbing to overwhelming defeats.
Several of Tuesday night's winners, and some political analysts, called the overturn in Central's government a manifestation of the frustration residents have had over drainage, flood recovery and the administration's push to spend $5 million on a new city hall.
"Central is a conservative, anti-tax constituency. They typically have a skeptical eye toward elected officials," said John Couvillon, president of JMC Analytics and Polling.
Woody Jenkins, head of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party and publisher of a Central newspaper, said the sweeping defeats happened because of resentment over the city's slow recovery from the 2016 floods.
Nearly 80 percent of the city was swamped by waist-high floodwater.
"I privately predicted this, but to see it happen is still surprising," Jenkins said. "There's still a lot of pain; people had been suffering so much. That is what's really behind it."
Central was in recovery mode Wednesday after being inundated with floodwaters over the weekend.
Mayor-elect David Barrow said, "People just felt, over the past four years, their voices were not being heard well enough on controversial issues."
Barrow said residents were also angry that current Mayor Jr. Shelton and the City Council ignored their opposition back in 2015 to a large-scale neighborhood development that the city didn't have the infrastructure to support. The proposal to spend $5 million to build a new City Hall didn't sit well with residents either, he said.
Shelton and one of the council members who got vaulted out of office said they stand by every decision they made while in office, claiming they did everything possible to help the city bounce back after the flood and to address the needs of the residents.
Barrow, who was Central's first administrator, had later been fired by Shelton.
And now the tables are turned: Barrow pulled in 52 percent of Tuesday's vote compared to Shelton's 27 percent and Marcus Michelli's 21 percent, according to complete but unofficial returns. All three are Republicans.
"I would rather lose doing the right thing instead of compromising to win," Shelton said. "I'm sorry the citizens thought we should have done more."
Shelton tried to use his campaign to remind voters how aggressively he lobbied on the city's behalf in Washington, D.C. following the 2016 floods, trying to develop relationships with federal leaders to secure money for the city's ongoing recovery.
Shelton claimed his efforts helped the city receive "more money than any other municipality in the country" in state and federal aid — money he intended to use on a drainage master plan to address concerns over flash flooding that occurs whenever there is a heavy rainfall.
Many of the city's waterways and canals are choked with vegetation and man-made debris from the August floods.
State District Judge Wilson Fields ruled Wednesday that an upscale traditional neighborhood development planned in Central can move forward an…
"People were just ready for a change," Barrow said.
And they'll get a lot of change in 2019.
In addition to Shelton's defeat, council members Wayne Messina, John Vance, Kim Fralick and Shane Evans were all defeated in their re-election bids. This election was the first time council members were elected by district. In prior elections, the council was all at-large. The council now has five district and two at-large seats.
The only incumbent not seeking re-election was Councilman Jason Ellis.
In the council's at-large races, Messina pulled in only 16 percent of the vote, knocking him out of the running. Wade Evans secured one of those seats Tuesday, with the second spot headed to Dec. 8's runoff pitting Aaron McKinney against Ryan Meador. Also knocked out in the at-large seat primary was Kimberly Powers. All five are Republicans.
In the council's district races, Vance received only 25 percent of the vote to Joshua Roy's 75 percent in District 2; Fralick was defeated by Dave Freneaux who pulled in 70 percent of the vote in District 3; and Evans managed to rake in 41 percent of the vote in District 4 where he lost to Despo "D'Ann" Wells, who got 59 percent. All are Republicans.
The District 5 seat is also headed to next month's runoff with Charles Lee Hinton going up against Briton Myer. Hinton lead in the primary with 43 percent of the vote to Myer's 39 percent. Knocked out was Jeffrey Meyers, who got 18 percent. All are Republicans.
In District 1, Aaron Moak, a Republican who had previously served on the council but was not an incumbent this time, won outright with 62 percent of the vote to the 38 percent for Charlie Habig, a Democrat.
"The council and the mayor have done things they have a right to do, but doing the things you have a right to do isn't always the right thing to do," Freneaux said. "All I heard on the campaign trail was people wanting to feel like their voices are being heard."
Messina stood by his record, defending the push for the new City Hall as a project that would have generated revenue for the city and insisting city leaders have been addressing the drainage issues.
"I don't have to apologize to anyone," Messina said. "I can look myself in the mirror and know I busted my tail for Central."
Shelton said he feels residents don't understand the bureaucracy involved in getting certain things done, like drainage.
"Perhaps the people they elected can give them what they want," he said.