|Two businessmen with no political experience take on 'the machine.'|
Facing two bloodthirsty opponents who command hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, boast lengthy political careers and enjoy a regular public stage as mayor and mayor pro tem is a daunting enough prospect for any would-be candidate.
So what exactly was it that convinced two underdog businessmen with zero political experience to jump into the fray?
As it turns out, both Gordon Mese and Steve Myers—neither of whom claims a political party—are hoping voters really mean it when they say they're tired of the same old politics.
Neither has a fat campaign account or guaranteed bimonthly appearances on Metro21, but they're banking on voter frustration, social media and handshakes to close the gap. Each is convinced he can overtake Mike Walker and make it into a runoff with Mayor Kip Holden.
Mese, who owns the Garden District Nursery on Government Street and is educated in urban and regional planning, sounds every bit the calm, cool revolutionary. He has taken to referring to government as “the machine,” and his T-shirts proclaim this message: “Mese Mayor Relax.” Some of his best campaigning is done on street corners with a handmade sign and at Live After Five. Facebook is his favorite mass media, given that it allows him to “be 500 places at once” and doesn't cost anything.
He says “little battles along the way with the city” and the ideas of Thomas Jefferson (think “One man with courage is a majority”) inspired him to make his bid for mayor.
“I won some nice little battles with the city, and I came to realize I wasn't seeing any more than just a speed bump to the machine, as I will call it,” he says. “I was reading Thomas Jefferson's stuff, as I often do, and a bunch of his quotes started resonating with me in a different way. The whole thing with the money with the sheriff and all of these other things were happening at the same time. And I realized the machine just keeps on going. It doesn't change. I realized I've got to dive into the belly of the beast and cut my way out to change it.”
On a more pragmatic level, there's this: After watching the bond package fail twice, Mese became convinced that Holden, who at one point seemed assured of a third term, just might be beatable. “He started imploding,” Mese says, “and made himself vulnerable with self-inflicted wounds.”
Mese's low-key, low-budget campaign is by design. He decided from the beginning he wasn't going to spend any more than $2,000; that he wasn't going to take a penny in donations; and that he was going to rely on Facebook, hard work and his family's history in the Capital Region to see how far he might get.
“Maybe I can wake that sleeping giant again,” he says. “And if I don't succeed, maybe I can inspire the person that does. I do believe this is the wave of the future. I call it the American Revolution Part Two.”
Real estate broker and lawyer Steve Myers opted to get into the race late—he filed his paperwork just an hour before the qualifying period ended.
He did so out of concern that the candidates were only focused on two issues—crime and traffic—when Baton Rouge faces so many more. When other rumored candidates failed to qualify during the three-day period, Myers says he “couldn't shake the idea of running.”
His first challenge was whether or not he could make a big impact in a short period of time. The second was raising enough money to successfully challenge two well-funded candidates.
So he went for the attention-grabbing approach with his “40-day Campaign,” in which he outlines his solutions to Baton Rouge's most vexing problems via a YouTube video each day known as “The Myers Message.” He's raising money through a $250-per-ticket raffle, with a $10,000 grand prize to the person who comes closest to guessing the number of votes he receives on Nov. 6.
Now the challenge is convincing voters he's a competent compromise candidate. Despite being a self-made businessman with three degrees and a real estate broker license, many question whether he has the experience necessary.
“We're all against career politicians, but one of the concerns I hear is, 'You don't have any experience in government,'” he says. “With all those degrees and all that background and all that experience, do you really think I am less qualified than any of the other candidates when they were elected? There is a perception by the public that this is some hugely complex job that you really can't understand unless you've been in it for 20 years. The fact is, you can't be an expert in every area, so the key is to find people who are experts in those areas to work with you.”
Myers has gotten his share of the spotlight by being provocative, much like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose iconoclastic, bombastic, say-what-I-want style Myers admires.
As a property manager, Myers is defending himself in four court cases in Southdowns for renting homes to unrelated college students. He's taking some heat after criticizing voters at a forum at St. Aloysius Catholic Church earlier this month, saying he was “tired of the hypocrisy that comes out of the pitchfork-and-spear crowd.” He also called the audience “pitiful” when he asked how many had read the FuturEBR land-use document and only a few raised hands.
“I've gotten a couple of emails— it's like, 'We're now scolding voters?' he says.
“The answer is 'yes.' It's embarrassing how unprepared and uninvolved voters are. I'm amazed at how the country has lasted. But that's the way I feel. I think we need to have informed voters. Voters have to do something beyond walk in the booth and look for a D or an R, or who's got the prettiest sign.”
Myers, who ran Tiger Rag, a weekly publication that covered LSU sports from 1978 to 1993, concedes he's no stranger to controversy.
“I rather relish it,” he says. “Politics may be controversial, but they're not nearly as controversial as what the coach does on third down. When your life is basically threatened for what you write about a football game, politics is almost Romper Room.”
If nothing else, Myers hopes his campaign will educate voters as to the real state of government in Baton Rouge.
“I try not to insult people, but the fact of the matter is, the people need to wake up,” he says.
“Once they wake up, we can solve the problems. This town is run by a lot smaller group of people than the average voter thinks. And yet they won't take a little bit of time to get involved and say, 'We're going to go with somebody completely different.'”
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