A year ago on December 10th, I was driving people to the polls to cast their ballot for Sharon Weston-Broome. The night was filled with hope and optimism. Broome a democrat ran to replace 3 term mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden. Her opponent a republican from Central, State Senator Bodi White. Broome would be the victor that night, December 10, 2016. A relatively small victory, a race she won mostly along racial and party lines. Now a year later I must admit I’m disappointed. It didn’t start out that way. The night she was elected there was an electricity in the air, and in the weeks to follow. Her election was national news. She was the first African American woman elected to the office of Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish. A community with a population of nearly half a million people.
Mayor Broome gave a speech that night and at her inauguration that was riveting. She talked about equity, progress, and a better future for all. She had campaigned as someone who would balance the scales. Fix our police department, make sure our community had what it needed in every area, and that every one would have seat at the “table.” Several things this year have left me woefully disappointed.
The highs of 2017 were, she immediately came in and changed the use of force policy for the Baton Rouge police department. This was done in the first 60 days of her being sworn in. After holding meetings with community leaders and law enforcement on day one in office. While it hasn’t gotten her the praise she deserved, it was a major move for the city. After the July killing of Alton Sterling and the previous mayor seeing no need to make any changes in the department Mayor Broome acted swiftly on this matter.
Broome has also been an extremely tangible mayor. I have only been an adult for Broome and Holden, so I’m not sure how much other mayors did, but I know she is willing to sit down and talk to people. This is an added value for many.
Her handling of the DOJ decision in the Alton Sterling case was head and shoulders better than how her predecessor dealt with the community on the issue. Broome met with community activist, advocates, and ensure the message was clear that she believed in justice. She called out the Washington Post for releasing the decision to the national public before the Sterling family had even been notified by the Trump administrations DOJ. In short, she handled her business on the issue.
More recently, her process for helping her select the next chief of police for the city of Baton Rouge has been very public, very transparent, and appreciated by the community. She has promised to announce the next chief of police in the days to come, and most people believe that the candidates she has to pick from based on the committees recommendations are a good group.
The lows of 2017 have been more frequent than the highs. The failed hiring of Troy Bell for Chief Administrative Officer to replace William Daniel who served under Kip Holden. Bell lied on his resume about a degree he did not have. Which caused him to hold the position less than a week after the press broke the story a day later. Broome also failed to replace Chief of Police Carl Dabadie without strife.
The mayor presented a roads tax plan that ultimately failed. She wasn’t able to get the support of the Metro Council, but much of the community wasn’t in support of it either. I for one spoke out against the plan because it lacked equity. The road projects were heavy in south Baton Rouge.
The biggest disappointment for many was how she has handled equity in business. It is pretty much still nonexistent. A group of black business owners were given small contracts to assist with completing the BRAVE grant projects. BRAVE was a grant the city got under Holden to help with crime reduction. The work had mixed reviews under Holden and the Feds decided due to a lack of reporting by Holden’s administration not to give an extension of time to spend the dollars. One of Broome’s assistant CAO’s Dr. James Gilmore began spending those dollars with different businesses to help increase services to the community before the funds were sent back to the feds. The mayor, under pressure from conservatives froze the contracts, and basically threw Dr. Gilmore under the bus. This was a sign to many, that Broome is unwilling to stand up for black business owners who already aren’t getting enough in contracts from the government they fund. None of the BRAVE contracts exceeded seventeen thousand five hundred dollars, yet week after week white owned firms roll in hundreds of thousands in tax payer contracts and no one ever says a word. An Advocate report and emails later prove that nothing done was illegal or unethical.
The mayor’s budget will be approved this week by the metro council. At a forum on October 19, 2016, the mayor said she would achieve 10% with minority businesses in year one — and 25% by year four. From all signs that will not be accomplished in her first budget. A promise made has not been a promise kept on equity in business and that is unfortunate not just for the mayor, but for the hard working minority business owners in this parish as well. Concerns have been expressed about the fresh food initiative, and the police union contract as well. A major contributor to these problem has been assembling a team that isn’t battle tested, and many fearful to disrupt the status quo and possibly end up attacked by the media for changing how the city does business. We must be unapologetic and armed with the data, in order to show this community why equity in business is vitally important to the success of this community.
Hope and promise is often blind to the realities of the systemic status quo. Upon election the changes this city needs seemed logically obvious. Once you go down that path you quickly realize it’s you and your pure idealism against the comfortable establishment of the system. As you work to make changes you recognize the opposition comes from everywhere, places you least expect. It’s important to have a strong team around you. A team knowledgeable, fearless and most importantly a team loyal to the promises made on the campaign trail. Not sure if the mayor has found that team and as a result not sure if she has the army to fight against the stone wall of the “establishment”. In order to change this city the mayor must be willing to go to war. In order to win, you need soldiers who are skilled. You cannot do it alone. No matter how hard you try. I remain hopeful because I believe Mayor Broome is the woman she has said she is, I believe she does desire to see the quality of life improve for all citizens of this community. I hope she has learned from this year, and will hit the ground running in 2018. I know one thing for certain, black Baton Rouge specifically isn’t willing to wait another 12 years to see things turn around. She will not be afforded the time that Kip got. The clock is ticking to see tangible results. Three hundred and sixty five days later, I know many thought things would be further along on the journey toward changing this city. Let us hope, but not forget we also have a responsibility to hold people accountable.
Democrats have consistently done well on the social issues. Mayor Broome for the most part like most Dems has done well on the social issues around policing. Now it’s time to spend year two getting the business clear. Minority businesses and the black community must be a greater priority with tangible results in the first quarter of 2018 or I fear the thrill will be completely gone for most in the black community. That is the mayor’s base and without that base, she will be like mayor Bobby Simpson, a one term mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish. This isn’t about me and my desires, but what the community at large said by casting their ballot for Sharon Weston-Broome to be elected mayor-president of this community.