Do All Lives/Voices Really Matter In Baton Rouge?

The weekend has passed, a new week is underway… and I can’t get over how seven metro council members sat for hours listening to dozens of people clearly express themselves in opposition to an outdated process and then blatantly ignore their voices. Denise Amoroso, widow of Anthony “Buddy” Amoroso, will be keeping the council seat for District 8 warm for the next 9 months because of a legacy appointment that an overwhelming number of people did not want.More than 40 council meeting attendees stood in the special meeting held Thursday, July 19th and shared their thoughts on how antiquated the legacy appointment was and that they preferred another process be sought. Another way that wouldn’t lead to another Republican on the council, potentially voting against or slyly undermining progress for the city for two quarters of a year.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks shared a powerpoint presentation at the beginning of the meeting that pointed out 27 issues, most of them simple things like Resolution 53067, which was about “expressing the support of an investigation by the Louisiana Department of Justice into the July 5th 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling.” Out of those 27, only a handful were given a unanimous “yea” vote, the others were voted down almost entirely by the republicans members on the council. Banks’ made a point to say that none of the items negatively affect the districts of her colleagues, if they affected Districts 1,3,4, 8-9, 11, or 12 at all. The presentation gave an example of how consistently progress for the marginalized parts of Baton Rouge has been cut at the knees by members of the council.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson, held the record for nays to the resolutions brought up in the presentation. Which may give context to why one of the republican members of the council believed the presentation to be “a mockery of the public meeting process.” It wasn’t a mockery to people who have been paying attention. It was a reminder that some of Baton Rouge’s council members are either hard of hearing or lack integrity.

It was clear to anyone who attended the meeting or watched it online that residents did not agree with the way the council seat was handed to Denise Amoroso. Councilmen Welch District 1, Loupe District 3, Wilson District 4, Hudson District 9, Watson District 11, along with Councilwomen Wicker District 10, and Freiberg District 12 pretended like their bold disregard was honorable convictions about holding up tradition and a poor grieving widow. Like their hands were tied and they had to give the seat to Amoroso. They didn’t.

Weeks leading up to the appointment, four council members Banks District 2, Green District 5, Collins-Lewis District 6, and Cole District 7, released a statement saying that they would abstain from carrying on the tradition of voting in the spouse of a deceased member to fill the chair. Those members recognize that traditional methods in government are no longer effective. If Wicker the sole democrat and black member of the council to vote for Armoroso had abstained with her fellow black democrats, their attempt would have been successful  to prevent an appointment. Which would have sent the appointment to  Governor John Bel Edwards to appoint a council member. If this would have occurred the council could have been able to better reflect the demographics of the city, as Baton Rouge is more than 50% non-white. However, this did not happen.

I’ve worked for The Rouge Collection for the past 5 years. In that time I have seen Baton Rouge go through some tough times, being unfair in a number of ways. The council meeting on Thursday was one of those times. The meeting was ugly but not for the reasons that other media outlets said that they were. People were civil and clear in sharing their thoughts on the matter. Some expressing concern about their neighbors who have received threats to their lives over the issue. Some pleading with Mrs. Amoroso not to fall into a gender normative place setting for her husband. Some begging to have equal representation. Some calling out the council’s use of emotional manipulation. Some reassuring Buddy’s wife that this was not about her but the process. Some expressing their interest in applying for the position. Some even offering up easy solutions.

In the span of the hour long public hearing, where dozens opposed her appointment, only three individuals got up to speak on their belief of Denise Amoroso’s capability to carry out the duties of this seat saying they think that she is smart and that she is a good friend to them… but as an attendee stated, nobody knows her position on the issues. And no one knew after the meeting either.

Is it just assumed she shares the same views as her husband? Maybe you’ll be left to figure it out after her short term is up.

In that meeting she did not speak to defend the appointment process or to even try to reassure the people now in her district that everything is going to be okay. She sat in silence, no doubt experiencing a myriad of emotions. However, if we can suppose that she wasn’t in the emotional space to respond to the things said during the council meeting, then we could, and should, conclude that the upholding of that tradition is also ill-timed here.

Denise Amoroso taking the position and knowing what was at stake says a lot about how well she listens to constituents. It comes off as if she imposed herself in the middle of an imperative moment implying that she, tradition, and her husband’s memory are more important than the lives of the people who will be impacted by her votes in the next 9 months.

One has to ask, do all lives and voices really matter in Baton Rouge? 



Watch the meeting here: