The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision today to uphold a lower court ruling that disqualifies outgoing Metro Council member Tara Wicker from the Baton Rouge mayor’s race likely benefits incumbent Mayor Sharon Weston Broome more than any of the other six candidates in the crowded field, according to political experts.
That’s because Wicker, who, like Broome is a Black Democrat, is more moderate than the other Black Democratic candidate in the race, Rep. C. Denise Marcelle. Also, Wicker would have potentially drawn from the same pool of swing voters in south Baton Rouge that helped propel Broome to victory in 2016.
“This means there will be an uphill climb for anyone hoping to unseat the incumbent,” consultant Clay Young says. “With Tara out of the way, Denise will pick up some votes but this mostly helps the mayor.”
That may be why supporters of the mayor filed the challenge in the first place, arguing that Wicker was not eligible to run because she had not filed her 2016 and 2018 Louisiana income tax returns by the date of qualifying.
A 19th Judicial District Court judge sided with Wicker in the challenge, accepting her testimony in a hearing that she had, in fact, filed the returns even though she could not produce them. But the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, saying the trial court erred in accepting Wicker’s testimony as proof.
The Supreme Court did not issue a ruling but simply refused to take up the case, meaning the First Circuit decision stands.
“The Tara Wicker for Mayor-President campaign is disappointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision not to hear our case; however, the campaign respects the decision and the justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court,” Wicker says in a statement. “We are at peace regarding the decision. No matter the outcome, God is still in control.
Wicker did not issue an endorsement in her statement but says she will meet with her family and advisers to consider next steps.
With Wicker out, Broome now faces only Marcelle on the Democratic side as well as independent E. Eric Guirard, an attorney, and four white, male Republicans: former state Rep. Steve Carter, businessman Jordan Piazza, retiree Frank Smith and Metro Council member Matt Watson.
Carter, a well-known moderate also popular with swing voters in south Baton Rouge, may benefit more than the other GOP hopefuls from Wicker’s disqualification, according to Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels.
“If there’s any candidate who benefits from it financially, it’s Steve Carter,” Samuels says. “But it’s still too early to tell. This has all been such a shock.”
The Broome campaign, which has tried to distance itself from the challenge and supporters who filed it, issued a statement today reacting to the decision.
“From day one, Mayor Broome has welcomed all legally qualified candidates into this race,” the statement reads. “The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision today is final. With this distraction behind us we can focus on the issues impacting the residents of East Baton Rouge Parish.”
(Correction: This story has been updated since its original publication to reflect that E. Eric Guirard is running as an independent and not as a Republican.)