BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Crime, traffic, education and Baton Rouge's soaring AIDS rate were among the topics on the table as the four candidates for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish took part in a live televised debate Tuesday night.
As the debate ended, candidate Gordon Mese asked opponent Mike Walker to step out of race so that Mese could have a better chance of defeating incumbent Mayor Kip Holden.
Holden took several opportunities to direct comments toward Walker. In his closing statements, Holden did not directly name Walker but made it clear his comments were directed toward him. "There is no track record," Holden said of Walker. "After 12 years, all you've heard is criticism, criticism, criticism. No answers, no solutions, no nothing. He hasn't brought one job to Baton Rouge," Holden said. The mayor said crime is not "out of control" in the parish. "Crime can be managed."
Walker, a current metro councilman, says election day needs to be a "very soul-searching day for the citizens of East Baton Rouge parish." "You have to decide if this is a safe city, if you want us to continue to do what we've been doing for eight years," Walker said. "Or, would you like for us to change? Do you think some changes are needed or do you not?," he asked. Walker has focused much of his campaign on the need for Baton Rouge to curb its crime problem.
Candidate Steve Myers, a real-estate agent, says he would push to change a parish ordinance that does not allow more than two people who are not related to live in the same household. He also said he would do away with traffic cameras in the parish. "If you're for property rights, if you're for civil liberties, if you're for local government staying within its core mission of public safety and maintenance, if you're for few taxes and lower taxes then you're with me," Myers said.
One of the most notable moments of contention in the debate came when candidate Gordon Mese asked Walker to step out of the race. Mese says this race "has always been about second place", indicating the person who makes it into a runoff with Holden needs to be a person who can beat him. "Which of these candidates can actually cross racial lines and party lines?," he asked. "Because that is how Mr. Holden has won and that's how Mr. Holden is going to be beat," he said. "So far in this race, Mr. Walker has been incapable of beating Mr. Holden," Mese said. "So I would respectfully ask, sir, that you step out of this race to allow me to actually compete against Mr. Holden," he said to Walker.
The candidates also weighed in on a television ad currently airing by the Walker campaign which criticizes the security offered to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan during a recent visit to Baton Rouge. Walker says Baton Rouge City Police should not have taken part in a police escort of Farrakhan from the New Orleans airport to an event at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He says Holden should have stopped it from happening. However, both Mese and Myers said they agree with the decision to offer police protection to Farrakhan. Holden says the ad is untrue and divisive.
The hour-long debate was organized by WAFB-TV and broadcast live on WBXH-TV and simulcast on TALK 107.3 FM radio.
It was moderated by WAFB anchor Andre Moreau. The four panelists asking questions of the candidates included Talk 107.3 anchor Matt Kennedy, WAFB anchor Greg Meriwether, Baton Rouge Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel, and LSU Tiger TV representative Grant Yenni.
The debate was held at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU.
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