The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is changing the rules of the mayoral forum it is hosting Tuesday night with WGMB/WVLA, clearing the way for all six candidates in the race to participate, not just the top four based on a recent poll.
BRAC revised the threshold for participation in the televised forum from 5% to 1%, which will open the event to Republican businessman Jordan Piazza, who polled at 4% in the recent survey, and billboard attorney E. Eric Guirard, a registered independent, who polled at 1%.
BRAC’s decision is a victory in particular for Piazza, a political newcomer who has raised considerable money so far—more than $83,000—but lacks name recognition.
He complained to the media last week, when BRAC first announced the preliminary poll results that had determined which candidates would be invited to participate in the forum. Over the weekend, he emailed 70 BRAC board members and stakeholders to complain that the process was unfairly penalizing him in a race in which one in five voters is still undecided.
“While everyone else was watching the LSU game Saturday, I was tracking down the emails of the BRAC board and telling them about what an injustice this was,” he says. “Only 10 points separates me from making the runoff, while nearly 30 points separates the number two candidate and the mayor (who is in first place.) Clearly, voters haven’t made up their mind and should be able to hear from all the candidates.”
In BRAC’s poll, conducted over two days in late September by JMC Analytics, the breakdown of registered voters so far is: Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, 41%; Steve Carter, 14%; Matt Watson, 13%; C. Denise Marcelle, 6%; Piazza, 4%; and Guirard, 1%. Slightly more than 19% of voters remain undecided.
BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says the threshold was never meant to exclude serious candidates but to allow for a meaningful discussion of the issues, which will be challenging enough given that the forum is only one hour.
“In the current political climate, we realized it’s more important to hear everybody who is really in this race and has something to say about where this city is headed, so we expanded it,” Knapp says. “So we’ll have six folks instead of four.”
Forum organizers have adjusted their questions accordingly so that all the candidates will have adequate time to answer each question, he says.
Forum questions will focus on BRAC’s 10-point platform, which deals with economic development, blight, transportation infrastructure, crime, St. George, and government efficiency, among other issues.
The forum will begin at 7 p.m. and will be carried live on WVLA-33, WGMB-44, and Talk 107.3-FM.