Open Letter to Mayor Kip Holden, I’m Disappointed in Your Leadership

Mayor Holden,

For as long as I can remember I’ve looked up to you. I’ve thought that you were a great example for a young black man like myself to look to as an example of someone who made it. I grew up part of my childhood on Oriel Street in Scotlandville, in a two bedroom, one bathroom house. My family has deep roots in Scotlandville and South Baton Rouge, and on both sides, when your name was mentioned in my youth it was always with great respect.

In recent days that has changed. The man who raised me as his son, a 73-year-old graduate of Scotlandville High sat in the room at the forum at Southern University and listened to you speak. When I asked you about North Baton Rouge and the lack of development, you responded by talking about sidewalks on Ford Street and saying that investors aren’t interested in developing in North Baton Rouge. My father after the forum said to me, “That’s sad, all he can tell us is some sidewalks and excuses.”

Now because I asked you some tough questions concerning the “black” side of town, you call me a fraud in The Advocate? You tell people, “We know he’s being paid by an entity to do negative campaigning against me.” Who is we Mayor Holden? You should check your sources, because the information you have received about me is false. I haven’t been paid one red cent to say anything negative about you.

 I’m the same guy that blasted Rolfe McCollister for not endorsing you in the primary.  I defended you, because in large part you have done much for Baton Rouge. I have not tried to diminish the growth in Downtown Baton Rouge, or South Baton Rouge. However, I cannot avoid asking you a tough question at a forum, because it means you have to address the issues of low growth in North Baton Rouge.

You called me a fraud, really? What is it that makes me a fraud or unprofessional Mayor Holden? Is it because I asked you about my community, or because I didn’t come through the ranks like many other black leaders in Baton Rouge. You see, it was you who held a seat on the Metro Council, then in the state legislature, followed by becoming our mayor. Sen. Sharon Weston- Broome, followed the same path with plans to run for mayor next year, and I’ll ask her and others the same tough questions I asked you. Why? Because if we don’t start having these conversations we will continue to be ignored and North Baton Rouge will always lag behind the rest of the parish.

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BRAF Median Income Chart

Every time I read a news report about my side of town, it’s about crime. Or charity. We aren’t just neighborhoods full of “thugs” and criminals or people looking for handouts. There are college graduates, who would like to become entrepreneurs and invest in North Baton Rouge, but Mr. Mayor, you haven’t helped close the income gap for blacks in Baton Rouge. According to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation blacks in Baton Rouge earn a median income more than $50,000 less than whites. Blacks earn a median income of $39,000 compared to $91,000 earned by whites. Closing the income gap is what gives blacks the opportunity to have funds to invest in business development, but what have you done about that? Sure blacks can get a decent job in the city, but almost all of us work for white ran companies that, as you said, aren’t interested in economic development in North Baton Rouge.

The biggest problem with you calling me a fraud, Mayor Holden, is the fact that you agreed with me, that investors haven’t come to North Baton Rouge. The difference is, I’m willing to admit that more could’ve been done. You aren’t. So which one of us is lying to the people of Baton Rouge? Which one of us is a fraud, truly?

I’m a young black entrepreneur, and you tried to diminish my character in the largest print media platform in the state of Louisiana, because I disagreed with you on the business growth of the area I live in. You have no proof to validate anything you said about me. You just attacked me, and lied on me, because you were angry that your record can only show some sidewalks for North Baton Rouge. The same way folks lied on me saying that I was paid to pressure John Bel Edwards about not attending the forum we hosted at Southern University. They said David Vitter paid me. That was the rumor until Rachel Maddow reported on the forum on her show on MSNBC and called Vitter out for telling me to “read a dictionary.” Now you’re trying to spread lies, which have no merit, because you can’t truly defend your record on the lack of progress in North Baton Rouge.

You talked about Ford Street Mr. Mayor, a street that has new roads and sidewalks, but barely any homes. You talked about the Healthy Eating initiative but failed to realize that when I said the Piggly Wiggly had closed, that in fact the one on Harding and Plank had closed. You said, “Piggly Wiggly just change their name.” Yet that store has been closed for months now. It was the closest grocery store to my parent’s home. Now they have to drive a few miles further, while there are two Neighborhood Walmart’s on Coursey Blvd.

You want to talk about the great things you’ve done as mayor, go ahead. But the moment you justified not doing enough on my side of town by talking about sidewalks…you lost me. Now you attack me, because you can’t defend your record in North Baton Rouge. Worse than that, you’re so disconnected that you accused a sitting Metro Councilmember of taking a trip that was taken by a former state representative from Scotlandville who is now deceased. You have shown that you will say anything, to change the story.

The sad part about all this to me, is that I’ve faithfully voted for you since I was 18. You were the first mayor I voted for. As a young black man, I was proud to vote for you. I stuck my chest out the day after you were elected because Baton Rouge elected it’s first black mayor. I thought to myself, “we made it.” The truth is, YOU made it. We are still fighting to get a fair share of the pie. In the past month, all the contracts I’ve seen pushed at Metro Council meetings went to white ran entities. Even a grant for helping residents of 70805 that was over $100,000 was going to Healing Place Church, when there are a number of black churches right in the same zip code that could help serve the needs of that community. You simply don’t care if we grow black wealth and close the income gap.

History will be kind to you, because much has happened in Baton Rouge under your leadership. I haven’t and won’t ever deny it. Yet there will always be the stain on your red carpet of how you did little to help black Baton Rouge grow. You can brag on Perkins Rowe, IBM, and downtown. Yet all you can say about North Baton Rouge is a few streets. You see where you failed Mr. Mayor. You weren’t able to convey to all of Baton Rouge that a stronger North Baton Rouge, would decrease crime in Baton Rouge. That a stronger North Baton Rouge would help improve our school system. You didn’t show the citizens of Baton Rouge what’s in it for them in North Baton Rouge. You see Mr. Mayor, the stronger the other side of Baton Rouge is, the more marketable we are to those large companies that you so proudly boast about bringing. Yes, we got IBM, but we lost Albemarle. Even in the areas that you have much to brag on there have been some losses. Why? I believe it’s because you have ran away people who could truly help, because you don’t like to be challenged. Great leaders want the truth with them at all times. Not just what they want to hear.

I hope that at some stage you would like to sit down and talk, because I certainly want what’s best for Baton Rouge. It has been sad to see the black leaders I respect most unwilling to sit down with me and come up with solutions to move forward. I just don’t believe you would disrespect a publisher of another skin color the way you have me.

Lastly Mr. Mayor, you said I set you up. The only thing I want to set up, is business growth in North Baton Rouge. I don’t play games, I discuss issues, and come up with solutions. I’m truly disappointed in your leadership. You have attacked a young black man for using his voice to talk about progress. Isn’t that what you once did? Everyone has told me you’re too arrogant to sit down and meet with me after all you’ve said, but whenever you’re ready, I’m available.

These issues won’t go away, this is just the beginning. I still wish you much success, but I won’t back down on fighting for what I believe is right just because you have “Mayor” in front of your name.

 

Best,

Gary Chambers

Publisher

The Rouge Collection

Baton Rouge’s Black Media