Sharon Weston Broome Headshot

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome

Sharon Weston Broome acknowledges she made some mistakes in her first term as mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, but says what she learned from those mistakes will make her an even better "servant leader" in a second term. 

The first black female to hold the city-parish's top position says what she has accomplished in the past four years is greater than her small number of missteps. And she thinks the seeds she planted while in office will lead to transformations in the community if she has another term to see them through. 

"I'm all about getting results and taking care of this city; improving the quality of life for citizens," Broome said. "Leadership is not about winning a popularity contest. I'm not the only one who's ever made mistakes in a leadership role. But the true test of a leader is owning up to those mistakes and moving forward." 

One of Broome's most notable accomplishments her first term was winning voter approval on her nearly $1 billion roads improvement and infrastructure plan in December 2018. 

The following year, the Democratic mayor brokered $65 million in local matching funds to obtain $225 million in federal funding for dredging and widening five main drainage canals in the parish to address frequent flash flooding during and after heavy rain.

In July, she announced the city-parish would receive more than $80 million in federal funds for stormwater management and that work on the long-gestating $15 million Stormwater Master Plan should wrap up by the end of the year, providing what officials say will serve as the bible for future flood mitigation projects.

"It started off rocky; extremely challenging with the missteps but things have gotten progressively better," Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks said in assessing Broome's first term. "Each year she learned a lot. She's definitely done a lot better about making calls to council members herself to speak on things that are important to her."

The latest campaign finance report filings put Broome way ahead of her six challengers, with nearly $300,000 raised as of Aug. 5.

Some of her largest donors include the Acadian Ambulance Employee Political Action Committee, several engineering and planning firms, Raising Cane's owner and CEO Todd Graves and a number of the business leaders and community leaders her administration has partnered with on various city-parish projects and community efforts. 

But Broome has picked up quiet a few adversaries as she seeks reelection — perhaps most notably, the Baton Rouge Police Union, which recently put up two billboards lamenting the city's high crime rate. That was seemingly in retaliation after Broome went on a radio talk show in July and denounced the union for being an obstructive force in her efforts to weed out "bad cops" in the city's police department. 

One of the billboards read, "WARNING: Enter at your own risk," and the second called Baton Rouge the fifth-deadliest American city, citing a Fox News report based on 2018 crime statistics.

Broome's tension with the union has been simmering her entire term in office, prompted by her promise to hire a new police chief during her last campaign, which occurred against the backdrop of the protests and community unrest that surfaced in the wake of Alton Sterling's death. 

Sterling was a Black man who was fatally shot by two White Baton Rouge police officers in July 2016 after receiving a complaint about an armed man outside a Foster Drive convenience store. After hiring Chief Murphy Paul, Broome's administration implemented an array of new police reform initiatives that included outfitting officers with body cams, establishing a use of force policy, requiring de-escalation, and improving the police department's officer wellness program.

Another highly publicized clash has been with those pushing to create the city of St. George in the southeast corner of the parish. What initially began as an effort to create a school district has morphed into a much larger battle, with Broome positioning herself as the champion of keeping the parish united across racial and socioeconomic lines. 

She is currently locked in a legal fight to block St. George's incorporation from happening after voters in the proposed city approved it last year. St. George would become the fifth city in the parish and be predominately white and more affluent than Baton Rouge. 

St. George supporters have criticized her for being an ineffective leader, citing her administration's neglect of longstanding infrastructure needs as the cause of the widespread flash flooding. 

Her opponents have made similar statements, with some asserting the entire structure of city-parish government needs imploding, while other challengers have dinged her for not being an assertive leader.

"Contrary to popular belief, being loud is not synonymous with getting results," Broome said. "People need to recognize that I've led this city-parish in recovery from the 100-year, 2016 floods, out of the racial tension in the aftermath of the Alton Sterling shooting. I have put the full weight of government and used public-private partnerships to assure our citizens could bounce back.

"I've brought people together to get the job done," she added. 

But those perceived mistakes could be the reason Broome has drawn the most challengers any incumbent has ever faced in the past 30 years.

Her list of challengers this fall on the Republican side include Metro Councilman Matt Watson, businessman Jordan Piazza, newcomer Frank Smith III, former state Rep. Steve Carter. Also in the race are Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Democrat, and Baton Rouge attorney "E Eric" Guirard, an Independent. 

Broome said she's not focusing on the criticisms from her challengers. Instead she's looking towards a future where, if re-elected, she's promising pay raises for the city-parish's police, firefighters, EMS and department of public works employees. 

She's also pledging to bridge the often contentious gap between the police and the community, improving drainage and floodwater management through several infrastructure projects currently in the preliminary stages of development, creating more high-paying jobs and continuing initiatives to foster small business growth.

"I recognize financially COVID-19 has certainly turned our finances topsy-turvy, but it's incumbent upon me to carve a path forward to properly compensate our first responders for their tireless work," Broome said. "I'll be working tirelessly to keep our small businesses growing.

Although they have been disappointed with certain actions from the mayor, Together Baton Rouge leaders commend Broome for her willingness to stay in constant dialogue with them regarding the various issues the faith-based organization advocate for. 

"We don't always agree, like on (industrial tax credits), I would have liked to see take a more proactive stance against giving away tax dollars to big businesses," said Edgar Cage, a leader with Together Baton Rouge. "But she helped us in our fresh food initiatives and really cleared barriers toward getting a grocery store in north Baton Rouge." 

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com