Mayor-President Holden:  ‘Crime Can Be Managed’

Mayor-President Holden: ‘Crime Can Be Managed’

Mike Walker Hits Record 88 Homicides

 by Woody Jenkins, Editor

BATON ROUGE — The two major candidates for Mayor-President in the Nov. 6 election took opposite positions on the parish’s soaring crime problem in a televised debate Tuesday night.  Incumbent Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, said, “He talks like crime is out of control.  Crime can be managed.”

But Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Walker, the Republican nominee who is challenging Holden, said, “There is a crime emergency” in East Baton Rouge Parish.  He cited the 88 homicides so far this year, which means the parish is on-track to set an all-time record and give Baton Rouge one of the highest murder rates in the country.  Walker said the Baton Rouge Police Department needs 70 new officers

Walker said putting more officers on the streets is one of the keys to fighting violence.

Crime and the Baton Rouge Police Department were recurring issues throughout the hour-long debate, which was held at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications and sponsored by WAFB-TV.  It was broadcast on cable Channel 16.

The debate began with a question about a controversial commercial by Mike Walker on the use of Baton Rouge City Police to escort Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan from the New Orleans Airport to Southern University.

The 30-second spot, which has aired on Baton Rouge television stations the past week showed a video clip of Minister Farrakhan thanking Holden for using Baton Rouge City Police to pick him up at the New Orleans Airport and escort him to Baton Rouge.

In the debate, Holden said, “This is the kind of ad that divides people” by race.  Independent candidates Gordon Mese and Steve Myers were also critical of the ad.

But Mike Walker said, “This is not about race at all.  It’s a very bad practice to escort private citizens around Baton Rouge.  Our police officers are needed in the streets.  They are not an escort service.  This is a bad policy that needs to be changed.”

Matt Kennedy of radio station Talk 107.3 told the candidates the Green Light Program has been good but the Interstate highways remain in gridlock.  He asked for their solutions.

Myers said there are inconveniences in life and that the focus needs to be on moving traffic.  More turn lanes and turn signals would help, he said.  “The Loop is pie in the sky” and not the answer, Myers said.

Holden, the chief supporter of the Loop, said, “The Loop is very real.  Fear mongers say it’s coming through my house.  We’re still looking at the Northern Loop.  We need at least a by-pass.”

Walker said, “We can thank Tom Ed McHugh for the Pothole Tax.  We’ve been increasing capacity, and we need to focus on moving traffic.” Walker said the problem is regional and that he will develop a relationship with parish presidents in surrounding parishes.

Mese said the Loop is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. He said it would cost $4 billion and such money would be better spent on redevelopment of the Mid-City and North Baton Rouge areas.

Responding to a question from Stephanie Riegle of the Business Report, Holden, Walker, and Myers all said they opposed giving additional money to CATS, the Capital Area Transportation System, which operates the Baton Rouge bus company. Holden, who strongly supported the recent increase in the CATS property tax, said CATS has to have better efficiency and that CATS has made promises they are not fulfilling.

Walker, an outspoken opponent of the CATS tax increase, said the tax should be repealed.  “It was passed in a gerry-mandered district.  It goes to a failing bus company.  We should not subsidize it.  These funds should be used to put more police officers on the streets.”

Grant Yenni, an LSU student, returned the discussion to crime, and Walker said crime is the No. 1 issue.  He said, “We do not have enough police officers.  To illustrate this, 19 subdivisions in Baton Rouge have created special law enforcement districts and taxed themselves to provide more police patrols.  We are not going to be ‘The Next Great City’ until we are a safe city.”

When asked if there is a crime emergency, Holden said Walker is like Chicken Little, who says the sky is falling.  “Putting officers on every street corner is not the answer.”

Walker criticized Holden for holding up $4 million in law enforcement funds and not getting approval from Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.  Holden countered by saying he was just abiding by the law.

Greg Merriweather of WAFB-TV asked Walker about Holden using a detail of City Police to provide protection for himself.  Walker said, “I drive myself to work everyday.  Crime is so bad but the Mayor uses all these officers as his bodyguards.  How much have we spent on security for the Mayor?  There are three or four police officers surrounding the Mayor everywhere he goes.”

Stephanie Riegle asked Holden about his relationship with other public officials who had originally supported him.  “What happened?” she asked.  Holden said, “Ask Walker.  As to the Sheriff, I laid out the law.  Hillar Moore and I are doing fine.”

When Riegle asked about his relationship with Metro Council members, Holden said, “It depends on the day.”

Many Council members have complained the Mayor is difficult to work with or unavailable.

Myers said a vote for him will be a vote for civil rights, lower taxes and making Baton Rouge a better place to live.  “It’s time for a change.  We need fresh eyes.  Someone competent, capable, independent.  Remember, a vote for your principles is never a wasted vote.”

Holden criticized Walker, saying, “He has no track record, no solutions. He doesn’t give people credit for having common sense.  We have come too far to turn around now.”

Mese said, “My family has lived here for over a century.  My degrees are in planning.  We’re going into a runoff.  The question is, who can cross party and racial lines?”  He said Walker is incapable of beating Holden and should withdraw.

Walker asked, “Is this a safe city?  Are changes needed?  Which candidate are you most comfortable with?”  Walker said he has been faithful and will continue to be faithful to God, the country, his family, and the citizens of the parish.  “If you want to make a change, then help me next Tuesday,” he said.

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