East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome is up for re-election on November 3, 2020. So our Editor-in-Chief was delighted to get a one-on-one sit down with the first Black woman mayor of Louisianaâ€™s capital city to discuss what four years forward would like and why we should again vote for her.Â
Watch the interview below or read the highlights.Â
Highlights from Interview (not in order of video questions)
BroomeÂ on the Importance of Re-election
Well, it’s important to me, Fancy, because we started our journey in 2017. First, let me kind of set the stage for when I started. We came out of 2016,Â a year of trauma. And so those issues, those crises, those challenges that took place in 2016, carried over into my term as mayor. So in 2017, I hit the ground running, which we described as transformative leadership in some trying times. And so we started with police reform. We then went into addressing our drainage issues, and then certainly, we continued by dealing with our transportation and roads issue. So we started a journey of transformation and transparency in my first term. I believe that we have certainly made some tremendous progress with our Move BR program, the largest infrastructure program in the history of Baton Rouge; with our drainage issues that respond to the flood of 2016; and with our police reform, which is undoubtedly very prevalent, was a very prevalent issue before and now as well. So I want people to think about four years of their lives. You may have established goals and, in four years of your life, accomplished some of those goals, or are still working on those goals. I believe, as a city-parish government as the leader of the city-parish, that we have certainly made tremendous strides. We have connected to my vision of peace, prosperity, and progress for everyone, sewn some great seeds, and so we need to move four years forward on those achievements and a future vision for our community.
Move BR- https://movebr.brla.gov/
Broome Trauma City
We were able to secure a grant, the ReCAST Grant because it was a national federal grant designed for cities and trauma, and so on, and to bring healing and bring healing and tangibly address those issues through community-based partners in organizations. For example, as you say it, and I will enumerate them, the trauma that we experienced- and let me just back up and say this Fancy, as the Mayor-President, I have become enlightened about the impact of trauma on a community. As a result of what took place in 2016, we had the Alton Sterling killing; we had the police officersâ€™ killing, we had the great flood. All of that compacted in a year certainly takes its toll on a community, not only from a physical point of view but also from a mental point of view. So the Recast grant is designed to address the mental image trauma, the physical trauma that has impacted our city and parish just for that year. Now, think about it. That is why we say these past four years have been a season of a crisis for our city, not only working on those issues from 2016. But think about it, just this year, we have had a pandemic, more trauma, you know, just this year, I have had to stand up our Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, because of potential weather events, such as hurricanes, more anxiety. So the Recast grant is connected with organizations within our community that are directed- that are connected, I should say, directly to different circles in our community to help work through the trauma.
Broome on Education
I love that question. And as you know, as someone who loves to teach, although I have no direct authority over education, as a mayor, I certainly have to be concerned about everything that impacts the citizensâ€™ quality of life here in Baton Rouge. Education does that. So what we initiated from my shop is, first of all, we started our Cradle to K initiative, which is designed to empower parents with their children once they are born to the time they’re three years old. Then we make the connection from that time to our headstart program. We’re one of the few cities in Louisiana with a headstart program that the city/parish runs. I believe early childhood development, empowering parents when they first have their children, and then putting their children on a trajectory of success early on, is critical to the overall educational, academic outcomes, and just overall life outcomes of our young people in our children. Secondly, we have implemented a partnership with Southern University, LSU, BRCC, and our school system, the Capital Promise initiative. We are going into schools of students in middle school, encouraging them and giving them resources and direction. Our goal is to connect them on a higher education path to ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks. Those are two specific initiatives that we are involved in, but we will carry on into the next four years.
Cradle to K- https://www.brla.gov/1416/Cradle-to-K—Baton-Rouge
More on the Capital Promise Initiative- https://www.subr.edu/news/southern-university-partners-with-mayor-baton-rouge-institutions-in-launching-capital-area-promise-initiative
Broome on Job Creation
So that those 5000 jobs can certainly still become a reality, a lot of our vision and goals were pre COVID. Right? So COVID-19 has certainly caused us to massage and adjust many of our goals. Before COVID-19, from an economic development point of view, we were on a trajectory of increasing jobs, opportunities, etc. Our economic outlook was very bright, and because of COVID-19, our recovery will probably be evident by 2022. But in the meantime, what are we doing to empower our entrepreneurs, small businesses, and individuals who need employment? So first of all, we have a program Employ BR; this is for individuals who may be seeking employment and want to get certified in a particular area, and then correctly connected directly to jobs. So what we do with Employee BR is we secure the employees with potential employers by providing training that the employers are looking for in a workforce. So if individuals want to know about those opportunities, they can go to brla.gov and look up Employ BR. Secondly, we know we have a number of entrepreneurs, you’re an entrepreneur, who, you know, still want to stand up during a pandemic. And so we have right now, some resiliency grant opportunities that we have through a public-private partnership. And that is being implemented for us by the Urban League. For example, if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur and meet the criteria, you can get a small micro-grant to help you with some of the maybe the bills you have, etc. The information about our resiliency grants is found on the Urban Leagueâ€™s website. So I’m going to keep encouraging businesses to come to our city and parish. Just recently, I sent out letters. Let me tell you- the trending industries right now are the tech industry and the medical industry. So I have sent out letters to leaders in both sectors, inviting them to come to Baton Rouge. So we can indeed have additional opportunities for our young people and others who are seeking employment. And we’ve been getting positive responses as a result of those letters.
Employ BR- https://www.employbr.com/
Urban League- https://urbanleaguela.org/
Broome on Marijuana Decriminalization
Well, I’m, you know, already in Baton Rouge, the council has started an initiative around decriminalization of marijuana. I am a person that believes in science and that we have to look at the data and research. Certainly, I’ve had discussions even with my police chief around decriminalizing marijuana. I think that what the council has done or has started to do around that and what law enforcement has already looked at points to the fact that many individuals are, you know, arrested and criminalized, and on and on. I would say, in many instances, unwarranted, right? So I do believe that decriminalization of marijuana has to be looked at in the grand scheme of reform. And so I am indeed very open to that. I believe that we have to look at against the backdrop, of criminalization, for sure.Â
And you asked me another question, though, regarding record expungement. I believe the YWCA is working to assist individuals with expungement,Â and there are other nonprofits in the prison reform space. And I certainly support that. Listen, I believe that, um, you have to look holistically at a person.
Broome on Second Chances
I do believe in second chances. And unfortunately, records, you know, records can certainly be an obstruction to people getting their life back on track. That is why in the city-parish government, we have implemented â€˜Ban the Boxâ€™ to employ individuals in the city-parish government. So I believe all of those initiatives that you’ve mentioned certainly help us help individuals get their lives back on track without having those obstructions. We talk about poverty, unemployment, etc.; we’ve got to put people to work. And once again, we have to holistically look at an individual and then, I believe, certainly make decisions that help integrate them back into society. I want to see people get their lives on track and have a thriving and successful life, and one bad situation should not be a deterrent to that.
Broome on Crime and Public Safety
You bring up a very valid point; you know, everyone, regardless of where they live, is concerned about crime and public safety in our community. You know, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, under former President Barack Obama, said that violence affects communities big and small, and people of all races and all colors. He described it as an American program, a problem, excuse me, an American problem. And I have added to that, that it is a complex problem. Letâ€™s talk about where we are and where we want to be, and where we are going related to crime and public safety. First of all, you’re absolutely right. Our numbers in terms of violent crime and homicide were going down in 2018 and 2019. What happened in 2020?Â
Actually, we were on a trajectory at the beginning of the year. I never will forget that I talked about how we were continuing in January in my State of the City address. We expected a decrease in a continued downward trend as it relates to violent crime. What happened in 2020? The pandemic, COVID-19. Now Fancy if you pick up newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and others, you will find headlines that speak to an uptick in crime all over America, connected directly to COVID-19. Now, I have said I, to break that down. It takes, you know, a psychologist, sociologist. It’s a complex issue.
Broome Law Enforcement Improvement
It’s a complex issue. But that is one of the reasons now, as a leader, I don’t just stop there and say, â€œOkay, we’ve got an uptick in crime because of COVID-19.â€Â No, I continue to work to see how we can decrease crime. Since I took office, we have been working to invest and improve our police department and our community connection. So you hear a lot of conversations around policing right now. We have a robust community policing initiative. We had already before COVID-19 gone to hundreds of communities and engaged with them. In addition, many of the issues you’re now hearing around police reform, we put it into place inÂ 2017 in our police department.Â De-escalation, we implemented it. Implicit bias training, we implemented. Funding for body cameras, we implemented it. So we were ahead of the game already in terms of addressing many of these issues. According to studies for a city our size, we have enough police officers, but police- but public safety and crime are more than just the police department. So remember what I talked about, it’s a very complex problem. We all recognize that, um, communities need other responses to crime. And so that’s why I’m working. Hopefully, the city council will agree with investing our cares Act funding dollars for community-based public safety, as we anticipate rolling out a safe, hopeful, and healthy initiative. You’re right; a lot of the crime that we see taking place is in 70805 and 70802. We want to interrupt the cycle of violence in our community, specifically those that have been riddled with violence. To address the social outcome is a complex formula for crime. But we want to work on school-based outreach, community health outreach, and violence intervention. That is the path forward that we want to pursue. And I will tell you that just this week, the federal government has indicted many several individuals who have been involved in violent crime in our community. So the law enforcement has a task force working on this. We are working on it from on the local level, and I anticipate better days ahead as it relates to having and building a safe, hopeful, and healthy community.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.Â