Though politics is considered a spectator sport in Louisiana, the race to watch in East Baton Rouge Parish this year may be something of a sleeper.
It’s not as if Mayor Sharon Weston Broome has been a particularly popular mayor, according to her critics. The major accomplishment to which she can take credit is the passage of the MovEBR roads tax. But it hasn’t been implemented yet. So, even though it was a political win it’s too soon to claim it as a real victory.
Still, Broome is an incumbent and a skilled politician, who has forged alliances, spread the wealth and run a scandal-free administration while continuing to build up her campaign coffers. All of which will make her hard to beat.
“It’s highly unlikely someone will beat her,” says political pollster Bernie Pinsonat. “Not impossible, but highly unlikely.”
There will be those who try, however. At least two Metro Council members are expected to jump in the race to challenge Broome: Matt Watson and Tara Wicker, both of whom have been eyeing the position for months, if not years.
Watson, who will attract some conservative and moderate white voters, has been increasingly involved in north Baton Rouge affairs far outside the confines of his Old Goodwood district. This has earned him fans and detractors alike. Is he really cleaning up trash and waste tires from underserved neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge because he cares about the people or because he wants their vote? At the end of the day, does it make a difference?
Wicker has also been more visible and involved in matters outside her primarily downtown district and has tried to position herself as a moderate, who tries to bridge the city’s racial and political divide. You never know quite how she’s going to vote, though it’s typically with the African American, Democratic bloc on the council and she seems more likely to cross the aisle, even though she seldom does.
She’s more likely than Watson to pull moderate voters, both black and white, away from Broome. She also has established political connections and has been working for years to shore up her base, though it remains small. Can she grow it enough to beat an incumbent?
“Somebody like Wicker could split some of the African American vote and turn it into a runoff,” says political consultant Roy Fletcher. “But a lot is going to depend on turnout.”
There’s also still the possibility that another candidate or two could enter the race. Local restaurateur JordanPiazza plans to announce his candidacy this spring. The 31-year-old says it is time for the next generation of leadership in Baton Rouge.
State Representative and former council member C. Denise Marcelle is also eyeing a run, saying she’s being recruited by “many in the community” to enter the race.
Others also may enter the fray.
Though the St. George issue will likely factor into voter frustration, fueling a wave of anti-Broome sentiment in the footprint of the prospective new city, numerically the conservative voters that dominate the rest of the state are outnumbered in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“You can’t have someone who’s too conservative from Central or Zachary,” Pinsonat says. “They can’t win.”