A deeply divided Baton Rouge elected Sharon Weston Broome the first black female mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish. In a close contest against her former colleague state senator Bodi White, Broome rose as the victor with 52% of the vote. The race was decided by 4,216 votes. Inheriting a Baton Rouge after the murder of Alton Sterling and the shooting and killing of members of Baton Rouge’s law enforcement community, Mayor-Elect Broome has her work cut out for her.
Over the next few weeks Mayor-Elect Broome is working aggressively to craft an agenda to lead Baton Rouge. The reality is, much of the work Broome will attempt to carry out will have to go before the metro council. The council has a racial and political balance that favors white Baton Rouge. Sworn in January 2, 2017 the council will consist of 7 white republicans and five black democrats. One black male and one white female will hold seats on the council. White men are the majority. One of the newly elected members of the council is a young white male. Dwight Hudson made a name for himself in south Baton Rouge as an activist for the movement to incorporate the city of St. George a break away city. This council makeup means that if the white republicans decide they want to function like the congress of the U.S. and block the policies of the leader of the parish, they can attempt to do so with ease.
Some will say that Baton Rouge has had a black mayor for the past decade, what is the difference now? Mayor Kip Holden was selected to run against then mayor Bobby Simpson in 2004 by the white business community. Holden was supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars and a political action committee to help him defeat Bobby Simpson. As a result, Holden was beholden (no pun intended) to the white business community of Baton Rouge. Broome unlike Holden was not supported by the white business community. Those leaders who supported Holden created a political action committee to oppose Broome and raised $250,000 to attack her in TV and radio ads. They also helped Bodi White raise an impressive $1 million against Broome’s war chest of $500k much of which was raised in the last 30 days leading up to the runoff election. Broome was not the selection of the white business community. Considering that Broome is the black democrat, not selected by the white republican establishment, the mostly white republican metro council can attempt to stand in the way of progress in an attempt to make Broome look ineffective.
The reality is, not only is Broome the first black north Baton Rouge candidate to win that wasn’t approved by the white establishment, she is also a woman. Unlike in the black community in Baton Rouge where the majority of our elected officials are black women, in the white community the majority of elected officials are white males. Often men who grew up more privileged than the majority of us. Men who have not spent much time learning about communities or perspectives outside of their own. It is this limited mindset and reach that they govern from. As someone who has wrestled with the metro council over trying to make Baton Rouge more progressive, I know first-hand the tactics of the white republican members of the metro council.
There is a mandate set by the establishment, to make Broome a one term mayor. That can only be accomplished by making her time in office full of fights. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if Broome won by 4,000 or 40,000 votes – she is the mayor-elect and should be given the opportunity to set her agenda and give it a spin. Many are afraid she will spend much time investing in north Baton Rouge, because it is an area she has represented in the legislature for 20 plus years. The reality is, north Baton Rouge hasn’t received a fair share of investment from the local, state, or federal government and it is time to focus some of our attention, effort, and resources to the northern portion of the parish that has seen decline. Downtown literally was a haven for drugs and prostitutes pre-Kip Holden. Now a decade later it is flourishing. That didn’t happen by chance. It happened through planning and investment. North Baton Rouge deserves a shot to recover and thrive and I for one hope that Mayor-Elect Broome does put in work in north Baton Rouge.
It has already been said that the St. George group is mounting to attempt to break away again. They will pretend it is about children and schools, but it is really about black and white. Many of them want a white leader for their community. The tide has turned for Baton Rouge and it will be difficult for a non-progressive white to win in this parish ever again. The solution for white people has always been the same when a city gets too black, break away or leave. Our community is divided and Broome has her work cut out for her. It is my hope that she meets the metro council head on, with a solid progressive agenda that will create new job growth in sections of the parish that have not seen it, as well as build on what growth we have already seen. They will attempt to make it hard for her simply because she wasn’t picked by them, and isn’t one of them, so we have a responsibility – those of us who voted for her to rise to the occasion and support her efforts to lead this parish. No matter what part of this city-parish you’re from, we need her to be successful, because our children’s future depends on it. What she does has the ability to impact the future of Baton Rouge for years to come. It is my prayer that Mayor Broome is unapologetically progressive, our community needs real progress.