The New Guy
34-year-old candidate wins Metro Council election by default
By Jeremy HarperPosted Oct 10, 2012
When Ryan Heck decided to run for the District 11 Metro Council seat, he hired a political consultant, developed a campaign plan, and hit the city streets to introduce himself to voters.
He may not have needed to go through all the trouble.
The 34-year-old Republican won the District 11 seat – up for grabs after current council member Alison Gary opted not to run again – by default in September after no other candidates qualified for the election. He will take over the District 11 seat on Jan. 1 when the new term starts, likely as the youngest member of the 12-member council.
Running unopposed in an East Baton Rouge Metro Council race is rather common. In fact, six out of 12 races in this year’s council elections have already been decided by default. But it’s considerably less common for a political newcomer like Heck to step into office unopposed.
Heck, who works as a senior procurement specialist at Albemarle Corp., never expected to have such an easy time in his first foray into the political arena. That’s why he started his campaign in the spring – far earlier than most council candidates – putting out signs, doing radio appearances, and even sending some direct mail advertising to voters.
“We never planned on going in unopposed,” Heck said. “We had several people who I had heard were thinking about running, and we kind of used them as our mock candidates.”
Heck admits that he’s “not a political name,” but said perhaps all that early organizing work and community outreach discouraged other candidates from stepping in to the race. Whatever the reason, Heck stood alone to represent the district that includes largely affluent neighborhoods like Old Goodwood, Tara, Bocage, Westminster, and Jefferson Terrace.
A lifelong resident of Baton Rouge, Heck spent his childhood riding his bike around the same Old Goodwood neighborhood that he will represent. One of the reasons he decided to run was to ensure that his son and daughter enjoy the same safe streets.
“Never once was I worried for my safety,” he said. “Now my two young children live a block or two from where I was born, and I do worry about it.”
Heck is a graduate of the LSU College of Engineering, where he earned a degree in Construction Management and has also earned a Masters of Business Administration from LSU. He said from a young age he wanted to get involved in helping shape the city’s path, but found it hard to be taken seriously by the older political establishment.
Heck has been attending every council meeting and meeting with city-parish officials to learn more about the inner workings of East Baton Rouge government.
“I’m trying to do Councilman 101 now so in January I can hit the ground running,” he said.
He plans to attend this week’s meeting, when the council is expected to vote on a proposal by Gary, the current District 11 council member, that would allow grocery stores and bars to sell alcohol seven days a week. Currently retailers are barred from selling hard liquor before 11 a.m. on Sunday, and bars cannot open at all.
Restaurants are currently allowed to sell alcohol after 11 a.m. on Sundays if more than half of their revenues come from food, but Gary’s proposal would eliminate those restrictions. Bars would still have to close at 2 a.m. under the proposal.
Gary, a Republican, told Dig last week that she just wants to make Sunday like any other day of the week and Baton Rouge like any number of cities near and far that allow bars to open on Sundays.
Heck said he would support the measure if he had a vote, and added that he respects Gary for having the courage to push such a contentious idea before the council. Like Gary, he said he thinks the choice of when to drink should be left up to businesses and individuals, not the government.
“I’m a very liberty-minded fellow,” he said.
Similarly, Heck lamented the Baton Rouge crime rate, but said simply placing more police officers on the streets won’t address the root causes of the problem, which he pegs as the “breakdown of the family, fatherhood, and education.”
“We can’t just turn into a police state,” he said.