C. Denise Marcelle (D)

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Do you believe Baton Rouge has a race problem, and if so what 2 steps would you take as mayor in your first year to address it? 

First of all, there are some underlying issues about race. I think we’ve made some progress, but there is more to be made. To address this, we have to first look at poverty and have people come together and understand one another. We have to have a population that understands each side. We need to fully reach out and know one another. The experiences that someone on one side of town may be having are different from someone on the other side of town, but the problem is not being able to relate to one another. Poverty and crime are a big part of this.

One of things you have to do is build up the community that is distressed and get people to start having the conversations about race and economic development. In the northern part of the parish, we have to be able to spur economic development. I believe that as north Baton Rouge goes, so goes Baton Rouge. It’s best for the entire region to be successful. One of the things we can do is to encourage businesses to locate in the northern part of the parish and get certain grants for blighted properties and incentivize people to be in that area. We need to build those areas back up. We also need to make sure we get medical facilities and grocery stores back in North Baton Rouge.

We have a lot of work to do to build up our communities. And you have to utilize the people who live in these areas, as well. Use local people to do the work in order to build up the community. People are less likely to damage property if they are part of a project that they own. If we can have a holistic approach to development where we incentivize the developer and he hires the people, we will be accomplishing two big things. Let’s look at models in other communities that are working.

East Baton Rouge Parish and its residents were severely impacted by the August floods. What specific ideas do you have to rebuild our community and strengthen its people?

One of the things we have to look at is our drainage issues. We are already under a consent decree. And the Comite Diversion plan—we can’t wait on that project. We need to hold developers accountable on drainage so the homeowner doesn’t suffer. I believe some of the neighborhoods that were developed were set up so that it didn’t drain off right. We need to upgrade, not just maintain our infrastructure systems. I would love to see that pushed through.

We’re also going to have an issue with blighted properties. Drive down the 9th Ward in New Orleans and see what it’s like since Katrina. Our neighborhoods need rooftops with people in them paying taxes. That’s how a city runs. We need a real strategic plan involving the Office of Community Development, and if we don’t get on top of it, we’re going to see a catastrophe.

In order for you to consider your first term as mayor a success, what is the No. 1 thing you hope to have accomplished?

It’s a toss up between traffic and entrepreneurship in North Baton Rouge.

I want to move the city forward in terms of congestion of traffic. We are spending an inordinate amount of time in our cars. The other things I would like to see is economic development in North Baton Rouge so we bridge the gap between it and south Baton Rouge.

Her background:

Former Metro Council member. Represents north Baton Rouge’s District 61 in the Louisiana House of Representatives. An ordained minister. Paralegal and community outreach director for attorney Gordon McKernan.

As a new legislator, sponsored successful measures prohibiting state employers from inquiring about a prospective unclassified employee’s criminal history prior to an interview, allowing large fees owed to the office of motor vehicles to be paid in installments, and creating a task force to study the use of body cameras by law enforcement. Recently clashed with police union over T-shirts memorializing Alton Sterling and slain law enforcement officers that union leadership found offensive.

Create more police academies and alternative courts. Establish bus rapid transit to New Orleans. Improve traffic connections with Livingston, Ascension and West Baton Rouge parishes. Work with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to attract developers to under-developed areas. Incentivize developers to restore blighted areas. Expand healthcare services. Eliminate food deserts. Promote fair treatment regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.