Nearly a week after qualifying ended, the Metro Council races have generated little interest so far.
But the contests are worth noting because six of the 12 seats are open due to term limits, which means a lot of new faces will be on the dais come January, and with them will come new power dynamics.
“Some of the outgoing council members have been there a long time,” says former council member and Realtor Mike Walker. “Tara (Wicker), Trae (Welch), Scott (Wilson). You know how to deal with them and how they’re going to vote. But when you get six or seven brand new people, you may think you know who you are dealing with but you don’t until they start pushing those buttons.”
Already, there is one new face. Rowdy Gaudet became the de facto successor in District 3 to long-serving Republican Council member Chandler Loupe when no other candidate qualified to run against him.
But the five other open contests have drawn plenty of interest from candidates hoping to succeed outgoing council members Trae Welch, District 1; Scott Wilson, District 4; Donna Collins-Lewis, District 6; Tara Wicker, District 10; and, Matt Watson, District, 11.
Is there a possibility the balance of power on the deeply divided council, which currently favors Republicans 7-5, could shift?
Perhaps slightly, but likely not enough to make any significant difference, predicts former Metro Council member Barbara Freiberg, who vacated her District 12 seat early this year after being elected to the Legislature.
“I don’t think you’re really going to see the dynamic much change,” Freiberg says. “Though some of us crossed party lines more often than we got credit for doing, the reality is the parish is divided and council members represent the constituents in their districts.”
Still, Walker says the business community—and the real estate community in particular—is closely watching the races and intends to get involved, if not now, then before the December runoffs. He says a couple of the districts, in particular, could shift from Republican to Democrat.
“These races could change the composition of the council,” says Walker, who serves on the board of the governmental relations committee of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors. “We have had friendly business councils over the years. If you get a new majority, you do not know if they’re going to be friendly to real estate, friendly to business in general.”
Walker says the race to succeed Welch in District 1 is worth watching. Four candidates are running in a district that could flip from Republican to Democratic representation.
Walker says Wicker’s mostly downtown District 10 is another key race to watch, as is the District 12 race for Freiberg’s former seat. Though that seat is currently held by Freiberg’s appointed successor, Republican Jennifer Racca, several strong candidates of both parties have entered the race in the swing district to challenge the little known incumbent.