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EBR curfew issue brings out political campaigning

Even in situations where electoral politics literally should stop at the water’s edge, their appearance seem inevitable, as events surrounding a curfew in East Baton Rouge Parish indicate.

Earlier this week, EBR Sheriff Sid Gautreaux issued one that looks to last only briefly, after law enforcement made scattered arrests for looting consequent to the flood disaster soaking the parish. This imposition elicited complaints from both businesses disproportionately affected by shutting down commerce early and politicians claiming to look out for the public’s ability to engage in it and for business owners and employees to earn money off of it. In at least one case, both views found representation when Metro Councilman John Delgado penned an open letter to Gautreaux asking him to lift the curfew.

Delgado owns several nightclubs and later said the order closed down a large number of establishments like his, grocery stores, and gas stations (perhaps more to the point, convenience stores that sell gasoline), making it an overblown reaction to few reports of looting. In reality, the 10 PM deadline would affect few grocery stores or any other businesses except bars and convenience stores, so the vast majority of commercial enterprises remained unaffected.

Certainly some bartenders would lose tips and clerks some minimum wage hours in the dead of night, and the relatively few others engaging in commerce on the streets at that time, such as deliverers to grocery stores and taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers now without passengers, would suffer economically at a time some may need some extra cash to address storm losses. Personal autonomy to go out and, for example, get plowed at one of Delgado’s joints after elevating or putting back down furniture, housewares, etc. also would find curtailment with a curfew.

But people losing stuff after a flood perhaps should pass on spending resources on boozing. Further, with first responder resources stretched thin, fewer people on the streets means greater attention available on problems caused by the flooding at least during nighttime hours (if not giving some personnel a chance to catch a few winks after days of almost nonstop activity). And while only a handful of looting incidents had occurred prior to the curfew’s imposition, possibly without it many more would have happened. Given these considerations, on balance a curfew seems appropriate.

Yet not only does Delgado own bars and serve on the Metro Council, he also seeks the mayoralty of the city/parish. And in the past he has proven himself an acolyte of the Trumpian school of politics, where any publicity, even if it makes one look unflattering, is considered good, as  exemplified best by his past remark equating advocates of the creation of the city of St. George from unincorporated EBR as the “Taliban.” No doubt his making as public as he could his view on the curfew entirely relates to his campaign for mayor-president.

But he likely was not the only one who spoke on the issue for campaigning reasons. The curfew did not come from the expected source, current Mayor-Pres. Kip Holden, who subsequently both criticized and supported it. He explicated his bone of contention as not liking how it came about; with Holden unwilling to impose one, Gautreaux had to go to Gov. John Bel Edwards to get authorization to impose one and to detail actions he could take. In unsolicited contacting of the media, through them Holden schizophrenically averred of the necessity of one yet claimed it constituted some kind of weird state takeover of a local government.

However, keep in mind that Holden also looks for a kind of promotion, escaping the term limitation of his current post by running for Congress. He challenges incumbent Rep. Cedric Richmond, who has kept himself in the headlines concerning the flooding here and there with commentary peripheral to, if not outright unnecessary in, mitigating the crisis. During campaign season the brand does have to stay out there by whatever means necessary.

Political machinations aside, a curfew was the right call. One just has to cut through the political noise of campaigning to understand that.

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