The shooting death of Alton Sterling during a struggle with Baton Rouge police officers has prompted protests in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, and some of those protesters have demanded that East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden resign.
Those demands sound off-key, and we don’t think they reflect what most of Holden’s constituents believe. Sterling died just days ago, on July 5, and Holden acted quickly and responsibly to advance a federal probe of the shooting. That investigation will take time, and so far, we see no evidence the mayor did anything that would warrant his resignation.
But as a faction of Baton Rouge residents argue that Holden should leave office, even the mayor’s supporters might be forgiven for feeling the past few days that Holden has already left public life. His elusiveness since a news conference about the Sterling shooting has seemed off-key, too.
After that news conference, the mayor traveled to Washington, D.C., to seek federal funding for a proposed LSU-downtown tram. Since coming home, he’s been largely absent from the public stage at a time of high anxiety in his city, with an international lens focused on the community he was elected to serve. Late last week, he said he had not yet contacted Sterling’s family about the shooting.
Holden defended his low profile, saying he didn’t want to be “a showboat politician.” It’s an odd response from a man who, to his great credit, has been one of the most consistently visible mayors in Baton Rouge history. The mayor cited a death threat against him as another reason for his low profile. We assume the mayor has enough security to conduct his public duties with a reasonable assurance of safety. If he adopts a bunker mentality during a difficult time for his city, what example does that set for residents? Holden’s muted presence has contrasted sharply with that of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who’s been seen frequently as he addresses concerns over the shooting and its aftermath.
As a three-term mayor, Holden has demonstrated formidable political skills and a gift for connecting with constituents from all walks of life. Those attributes can be a source of strength for Baton Rouge and Louisiana right now. But in politics as in so much of life, showing up is half the game.