Residents of Metro Council District 3 in south Baton Rouge—which extends from Riverbend through Gardere and parts of St. George, including the Country Club of Louisiana—might be surprised to learn they have a new council member.
Though the election is still three months away, consultant Rowdy Gaudet was the only candidate to qualify for the race to fill the seat being vacated by Chandler Loupe, who cannot seek reelection because of term limits.
Gaudet is, therefore, the de facto winner.
“He’ll be sworn in just as if he had had to run but he will not appear on the ballot,” says Louisiana Secretary of State spokesman Tyler Brey. “That race will not be on the ballot.”
Gaudet joined consulting firm Emergent Method as managing director earlier this summer, after serving for three years as an assistant chief administrative officer in Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration.
Prior to joining the Broome administration, he worked for the Louisiana Office of Community Development and, before that, with the Louisiana Recovery Authority.
He began his career as legislative director for then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, according to his LinkedIn page.
Despite serving three years in a Democratic administration, Gaudet ran for office as a Republican. He says he switched his party affiliation from independent to Republican in fall 2019.
Gaudet says he is “humbled to have been elected without opposition and plans to spend the next several months getting around the district, meeting with citizens and homeowners associations in the district, and hearing from them about their priorities.”
That Gaudet walked into a council seat unopposed on his first run for public office is unusual, to say the least, even amid a pandemic. The other five open council seats on the November ballot have each drawn anywhere from three to eight candidates.
Restaurant owner Brad Watts, who lives in the district, says he seriously considered a run and, as recently as July 24, the final day of qualifying, was on the fence. But he ultimately decided against getting into the race because of concerns for how it might impact his business.
“I was as surprised as anybody he didn’t have any opposition,” says Watts, whose restaurant holdings include K Street Grill and Cecelia Creole Bistro. “But I have a lot to do, once I can reopen my restaurants, and I don’t want people to not eat at my restaurants because they don’t agree with my politics.”
Whether Gaudet’s politics have any impact on Emergent Method’s potential business remains to be seen. But it’s not likely. The firm has grown in recent years to become one of Baton Rouge’s most prolific consultants, with a diverse array of public- and private-sector clients.
Several of those, past or present, are entities related to the city-parish, including: the city of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Health District, Baton Rouge Metro Airport, Baton Rouge Police Department and BREC.
Under the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, Gaudet would have to recuse himself from voting on any transactions or contracts that could potentially benefit him or his firm, says Council Administrator Ashley Beck.
She says it’s unclear whether that would be handled on an individual basis or whether a blanket opinion could be rendered that would cover all contracts with Emergent Method.
“That would ultimately be something for the parish attorney to decide,” Beck says.
Gaudet says he will abstain from any votes on Emergent Method contracts, adding that at the firm, he will not work on or bill for work on any projects related to city-parish contracts.