This Baton Rouge Mayor Gets By With A Little Help From Her 'Sister Mayors'
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome believes the key to success is helping another sister succeed.
March 11, 2021 at 9:19 pm
Sharon Weston Broome, Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, inherited a city riddled by loss and grief.
During her campaign for office in 2016, Baton Rouge had become the latest site of an officer-involved shooting with the death of Alton Sterling. Its subsequent protests made international news. Two weeks later, a rampage left three officers dead and three injured. And rounding out that summer was the devastation of a 1000-year flood that damaged hundreds of homes, even her own. Still, the steadfast politician continued her mayoral quest. When the election results were announced naming her the first elected woman and first-ever Black woman as mayor of the capital city, her first thoughts were, “We did it,” immediately followed by, “Let’s get to work.”
“I didn't see it as just a Sharon Weston Broome journey -- I saw it as a victory for our community, and it was a hard-fought race. 2016 was such a traumatic year for us in Baton Rouge," she said.
Now in her second of three possible terms, Broome is mitigating COVID-19 regulations and mass vaccinations, among other typical and atypical day-to-day city operations. She jokingly refers to herself as “the crisis mayor.”
“2020 was a traumatic year for us. I feel like I’m the mayor dealing with crisis after crisis,” Broome said. “I’m the crisis mayor.”
While Broome is not new to politics, it was not her first career goal. The Chicago, Illinois, native holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications and worked as an anchor for a Baton Rouge television station. Following her five years behind the news desk, she began a successful career in politics, as a member of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council, and later as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, Chair of Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee, Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, and a seat in the Louisiana State Senate. Although rich in political experience, she said her background in journalism has been incredibly helpful to her ability to communicate with other leaders, her staff and the community.
“I believe my communications background intersected with my leadership skills and provided a great opportunity for me as an elected leader," Broome said.Just like any good journalist, Broome knows to stand clear of the dreaded comment section of news articles, but she says she’s been privy to some of the community’s comments about her. One memory, in particular, comes to mind in which she gave a speech she had written, and an unidentified community member complimented a male senior member of her staff on how well-written the speech was.
“I’ve been in communications all my life -- I can write a speech,” she said. “I may not be able to do some challenging equations in math, but I can write a speech. But they assumed because it was a good speech that somebody else had to write it for me.”
“I mitigate some of these situations by doing the work and turning some of these unbelievers into believers," she continued.
Under her leadership, Baton Rouge has managed its HIV/AIDS crisis which once saw the city as number one in the country for infections. It is now ranked number ten. She’s also passed the largest infrastructure project in the city's history, totaling almost $1 million via a half-cent sales tax. She’s worked to reinvest in long-disinvested communities, made up mostly of Black residents, providing healthcare facilities and reopening businesses, among other blight removal and neighborhood refreshing projects.
Still, the religiously devoted woman who believes in her faith and moves in the light of positivity faces challenges in her role simply because of her race and gender.
“It’s most frustrating that I’ve spent almost half of my life in public service and when I get to a position as CEO of a city, then for some, there was some doubt in my ability and capability, because of my gender and race. Of course, I actually attribute that to years of folks impacted by stereotypes and narratives that portray women of color and Black people, in general, being less than,” she said.
This is where the sisterhood comes in -- this network of Black women facing some of the very same challenges. A sister to call in your time of need when you desire someone who understands exactly what you’re going through. For Broome, this sister is LaToya Cantrell, the mayor of New Orleans, her “Sister Mayor” -- a term the two Louisiana mayors coined.“Mayor Cantrell and I really started calling each other that from the very beginning,” Broome said. “Certainly there are other African American female mayors we network with and have camaraderie with, but Mayor Cantrell and I stay connected.”
Karen Freeman-Wilson, former mayor of Gary, Indiana, was also a part of their intimate collective, as an early mayoral mentor to Broome.
“[Freeman-Wilson] was always there for me to bounce ideas off of -- she is a very wise and smart sister. Those relationships, I certainly value, but Mayor Cantrell and I -- we're very close. When I have a challenge, she’s there to encourage me and when she has a challenge, I’m there," she added.Before she was elected the first woman mayor of New Orleans, Cantrell approached Broome at a fundraiser event and said, “I want to do what you’re doing.”
Cantrell’s mayoral term began on May 7, 2018. During her inauguration speech, she thanked Broome for sending her encouraging text messages.
“There are times when you want to share some challenges that you’ve had and you don’t feel like you can tell them to everybody,” Broome said. “It’s a really good feeling to have that camaraderie and there’s so much that we can identify with -- as African American women in leadership, as African American women firsts, women breaking the barriers. Being able to talk through -- whether it’s self-care or being the brunt of a challenge… it’s certainly helped me stay encouraged.”
Cantrell, Broome, Freeman, along with mayors Lovely Warren (Rochester, New York) and Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta, Georgia) shared the stage at Essence Festival in 2019 to discuss some of these challenges.
"First, it's always good to be on a platform with my sister mayors!" Cantrell said, welcoming the women to New Orleans.
When moderator Sheinelle Jones asked, "do y'all ever call each other and say 'girl,'" the women erupted in laughter.Inside jokes aside, the idea of helping another Black woman succeed is one that Baton Rouge’s mayor stands behind. Her advice to Black women interested in becoming a first in politics is to help someone else first.
“Assist another sister to achieve her goal,” Broome said. “I’m a firm believer that what you make happen for others reciprocates in your life.”
Listing the women who helped her achieve her goals, Broome acknowledged how the same women later achieved their own political goals.
“Certainly I reciprocated my influence in helping them. But, it’s not quid-pro-quo,'' Broome added. "When they did that, it wasn’t even on their radar, but what it did was expose them to the political arena, expose them to public service and they just responded to the call.”
Broome said she intends to uphold the legacy of Black women barrier-breakers by being a woman who shows her care and concern for other Black women.
“Across the board Black women in politics, if we demonstrate that support, encouragement and collaboration, that it will certainly take us a long way on the journey,” Broome said.