Businessman Eddie Rispone has formed a nonprofit organization—Baton Rouge Families First—that is taking direct aim at Together Baton Rouge, a broad-based community organization that advocates for policies that primarily help the low-income population.
Rispone, a key backer of the failed 2014 St. George incorporation effort, says the purpose of his new organization is to empower lower and middle-income families in Baton Rouge by “encouraging education reform, promoting quality jobs through proactive economic development, and supporting initiatives that strengthen the family structure.”
But the group’s first outreach effort is a five-minute video questioning TBR’s motives, tactics and affiliation with the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation, a nationwide network of community organizations.
“If Together Baton Rouge truly wants to help families you would think they would be working with their ally religious leaders in educating congregants about morals, virtues, independence and family life—the bedrock of a sound society,” the video says. “Instead it seems to many Together Baton Rouge would rather divide the city using socialist, radical tactics and pushing a national agenda.”
Together Baton Rouge was officially incorporated in 2010, after a group of several African American ministers led by Rev. Lee Wesley came together to form an organization that would address issues facing the community such as rising crime rates, poverty and income disparity. TBR has made no secrets of its affiliation with IAF and Wesley says they initially brought in IAF lead organizer Perry Perkins to help them get off the ground. Broderick Bagert soon after became the lead organizer and has been the public face of the local group.
In the years since, TBR has taken on several issues that have pitted it against segments of the business community and southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, including the CATS tax, opposition to the St. George incorporation effort and, most notably, the Louisiana Industrial Tax Exemption Program.
Rispone says he first took issue with TBR after it opposed St. George. He says he was further troubled by the group’s characterization of itself as a faith-based, grassroots organization. His church, St. George Catholic Church, is among TBR’s member organizations, which Rispone finds troubling.
“They got the church involved—some of my dear friends—and I got the feeling they were somewhat misleading,” he says. “That put them on my radar.”
Rispone, who heads the industrial services firm ISC Constructors, says TBR’s stance on ITEP was the last straw. He says he grew up in north Baton Rouge and understands the importance of the jobs ITEP has helped create in working class neighborhoods.
But fighting TBR isn’t the only aim of Baton Rouge Families First, he says. The group will also advocate for changes to social service policies that promote “independence and the traditional family structure,” and will help promote organizations that support that position.
He declines to say how much he spent on the anti-TBR video or how much he intends to raise through the organization.
In a statement in response to the video, TBR Executive Committee member Rev. Steve Crump says, “From the brief description we’ve seen of Mr. Rispone’s organization, it looks like we share a lot of the same goals and values. We’d be happy to sit down with Mr. Rispone to discuss his perceptions of Together Baton Rouge. My guess is, if he takes a look at who we are and what we do, he might come to see us differently.”