BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The race for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish has come down to days.
City-parish voters will pick between two hopefuls Saturday, Dec. 5: Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and former State Rep. Steve Carter. The Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger received the first- and second-highest number of votes in the Nov. 3 primary.
Broome and Carter participated in a forum Monday at the Burden Museum & Gardens, sponsored by the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
What is the biggest reason for the crime wave in Baton Rouge?
Carter: “In the last four years, we have the opportunity to reach 450 murders in a four-year period under the current administration. That’s just not acceptable to me. Part of it has to do with policing itself. We’re understaffed. We need to make sure we’re fully staffed with our police force. Obviously, raises are very important, too. We need to make sure everybody in this community understands how important it is that they lock their cars, because that’s where a lot of people are getting the pistols, guns, et cetera to commit these crimes. We’re just not doing things we need to do within the community.”
Broome: “The biggest wave for the crime we’ve seen recently is COVID-19. If you read information from Brookings Institution, if you get information from the federal government, if you look at the statistics going on throughout the country, there is an uptick of crime that is taking place… The truth is our numbers were going down in 2018, 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The change was COVID-19.”
Would you keep Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul on the job?
Broome: “He is one person I don’t have to think about twice in terms of returning to that position. He has been able to work to close the gap with the community and the police department. I get reviews from citizens consistently who say, ‘We love Chief Murphy Paul.’ Why? Because he has not stayed in his office, but he has gone out in the community. He calls people on a regular basis. If they call him, he calls them back. I believe his performance certainly has been one of a great leader… As I converse with the chief on a regular basis, I know some goals he has to continue to move our police department toward 21st century pillars of policing. I believe he will get there.”
Carter: “I don’t know the chief, but I have gotten around to talk to some ex-chiefs of police and a number of people on the force, just to get an idea of what we’re doing. I’m concerned, one, with our morale. I think we have problems with morale on the police force. I don’t understand why we’re not fully staffed. We need to make sure police are paid what they should be.”
How would you improve transportation in Baton Rouge?
Broome: “By the end of this year, we are going to have 100 lights synchronized of our 200-light synchronization program… I decided that we needed to think big and not just for a small segment. So, now because of thinking big and innovatively, we have the bus rapid transit on the Plank Road corridor that we just got $5 million from JPMorgan Chase to develop. That is part of the 21st century transportation modality people are talking about — bike paths, walkable communities. All of that is part of our plan, much of it encompassed in our MovEBR project.”
Carter: “Yesterday, I left church at 9 a.m. to go to my parents’ gravesite. I was on North Boulevard. I stopped at three lights. I must have stayed 45 seconds at each light. Nobody was in the area. Nobody was in a cross street. Nobody was coming towards me. But I wasted that much time just sitting there, getting mad. That’s got to change.”
Would you be willing to change the names of streets, buildings and other places named after Confederate leaders?
Broome: “Symbols do matter. We’ve asked a commission to share with this community: What are their thoughts about symbols and street names? Let’s face it, we live in the heart of what was once the slave trade, plantations, et cetera. That is part of the fabric. But how do we address those symbols, those street names? Do we put more effort in economic uplifting of disinvested communities? How do we bring it all together? That will be part of the report from the commission.”
Carter: “What I would like to do would be to continue bringing community leaders and the community together to discuss this topic. I don’t think it’s much of a hot topic now, because I think we’ve solved most of the issues, at least I hope we have, because we have enough divide within our community already. I’d hate for it to continue to fester back up.”
How would you further develop Baton Rouge’s economy?
Carter: “We need to make sure that if we do encourage and recruit businesses to come here, we’ve got to clean up our own act a little bit before they get here. We need to make sure the litter is taken care of, blight is taken care of, and that we do the things that are necessary. We need to make sure that when people leave the Baton Rouge airport and come into town, that they’re proud of the city. We need to do a better job, obviously, with crime, because when they go into their hotel rooms, they turn on a TV, and what’s the first thing they see? It’s another murder.”
Broome: “I have worked diligently on public-private partnerships to drive our economy and respond to many issues. I established a mayor’s business roundtable, and I have notable businesses from every level that represent the fabric of Baton Rouge… I’m proud that we were put on the map by companies like eBay, with their retail revival program that has empowered hundreds of small businesses, in addition to Amazon… I will continue to use that formula of public-private partnerships as well as get feedback from the men and women who represent our business communities here.”
What do you love about Baton Rouge?
Broome: “The people. We have some of the best people in Baton Rouge. The culture. We have a thriving culture that makes people want to come to Baton Rouge. Our food, our institutions of Southern University and LSU. Our Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and our lush environment. We have a lot of assets that make Baton Rouge unique. Not to mention we are the capital city, and I will tell you we are a regional leader. I’m sitting with parish presidents around our area talking about how we’ve moved the region forward.”
Carter: “I’ve lived in Baton Rouge all my life. I attended public schools here. I attended LSU… I love this city. My daughter lives here with my four grandchildren. I want my four grandchildren not to move. I want them to live here so I can enjoy their lives… We have an awful lot to offer, our two universities as well as the community college system. We have the Mississippi River that we should maybe utilize even more than how we do right now… It’s got an awful lot to offer.”
Polls will open Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 a.m., and they will close at 8 p.m.