Walker's lone shot
If Mike Walker is to become the next mayor of Baton Rouge, two things must happen: First, incumbent Kip Holden can't win the race outright (50%-plus) in the Nov. 6 primary; and, second, voters in south Baton Rouge must turn out in significant numbers and push the “x” button for the current mayor pro tem in the Dec. 8 runoff.
It's as simple as that—and it's Walker's only legitimate shot at preventing Holden from winning a third term as the head of the parish and its signature city.
Holden is hardly the darling that he was with voters in 2008, when he easily won re-election with 71% of the primary vote and became the first mayoral candidate to capture all 314 parish precincts. That November evening four years ago was the zenith of Holden's tenure as Baton Rouge's first black mayor.
Since then, Holden's popularity has been slowly fading—in both the black and white communities. Suburban whites aren't happy with the mayor for a variety of reasons: 1) the increasing crime rate in the parish, 2) Holden's three-peat quest to get an expensive tax-bond-and-spend proposal passed, 3) what they believe to be his love affair with spending money on downtown projects, and 4) a perception that he could not care less about their problems. Urban blacks are increasingly agitated by the notion that he ignores their needs while pandering to the white community. And then there are those who have grown disenchanted with Holden's noticeable mood swing (from upbeat to combative) since the third bond defeat and the departure of Walter Monsour, his former right-hand confidant.
Yet this much is also true: Holden is still the incumbent, he's still popular with many white voters, and the black community, whether it is upset or not, is not going to abandon the only black—and the only Democrat—in the field.
Pollster Bernie Pinsonat says Holden is the favorite, holding a 42%-22% edge over Walker in a poll of likely voters conducted in late July. Another 7% is split between long-shot candidates Gordon Mese and Steve Myers. What gives Walker hope is that Holden is polling below 50% overall, and his support among white voters, according to Pinsonat, has fallen from 60%-plus to around 29%.
After four years serving as one of Holden's closest allies on the Metro Council (black council members supported his bid for mayor pro tem because they thought he would work well with the second-term mayor), the term-limited Walker has spent the past four years working overtime to put as much distance as possible between himself and the man who has the job he wants.
The man who, in late 2006, bellowed to a crowd in a Raleigh, N.C., auditorium that if they got a downtown entertainment district proposal before the council he vowed to get it passed now says the love for downtown has gone way too far. The man who once supported the building of a state-of-the-art downtown library now leads the charge to halt the actual building of that state-of-the-art downtown library. The man who worked in support of Holden's billion-dollar first bond proposal, including the controversial Alive project, successfully fought to keep Holden's stripped-down third bond proposal from ever getting before the voters. The man who once sang in harmony with the mayor's crime-fighting measures now says Holden has been tone deaf on crime and that only he has the solution to the problem that scares voters most. The man who endorsed Holden in 2008 now wants his job in 2012.
Walker's message is a simple one: He isn't Kip Holden, he supports suburban love over downtown love, local government has more than enough money (i.e. new taxes or fees need not apply), and on his watch, crime will become a fear of the past.
All are themes that undoubtedly play well with Tea Party types and voters in Zachary, Central and the southeast section of unincorporated Baton Rouge.
If you concede those areas to Walker, give the black vote to Holden and split the Baker vote, the election comes down to whom south Baton Rouge voters choose. With the presidential election—and Barack Obama—on the Nov. 6 ballot, black turnout figures to be heaviest in the mayoral primary. The trick for Walker is to survive that night and live to fight Holden straight up in the Dec. 8 runoff, when black turnout will likely be substantially lower.
The plan only works, however, if south Baton Rouge voters opt for Walker over Holden. There's no doubt an increasing number of folks in that area have grown tired of Holden, but are they so tired of him that they're willing to sign up for Walker's brand of leadership?
The answer to that question will determine our mayor.
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