Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s life has been a rich tapestry of leadership and public service, from her early leadership role with the Girl Scouts, to her time in student government, and on to her service to the people of Baton Rouge as an elected official.
Broome credits her interest in politics to her parents. She says she learned compassion from her mother and fearlessness from her father. “That combination empowered me to become a public servant,” she says. “I learned to do good—and not to back down on my values.”
Although she says she doesn’t think of herself as a trailblazer, Broome has shattered ceilings throughout her political career. She has been the first woman to hold many of the positions she’s had, including mayor-president. “I saw things I wanted to do and I went after them,” she says. “Service to others is a key motivator. I’m qualified and have the heart for public service, and I want to help people.”
We sat down with Broome to learn about her vision for the city’s future and the role planning plays in making progress for Baton Rouge.
What does your ideal vision of Baton Rouge look like?
Unity has always been my goal. I want to see disunity as the exception — not the rule — across race, gender and political lines. That segregation is so harmful. My goal in office is to create a community that values each and every person and to create a city and parish of peace, prosperity and progress for everyone.
As a city, we need to embrace positive progression. We need to value things like technology and diversity for themselves and for what they can offer the larger community. In the past Baton Rouge has rejected the unknown, but it’s part of growth.
For example, we’re working on making Baton Rouge a more walkable community. People should feel empowered to enjoy our city and the quality of life that we have to offer. The ability to enjoy our neighborhoods pulls us all together; community members can become more integrated with the rest of the city, instead of being isolated in silos. This feeds division.
How important is planning in achieving this vision? What do you think has been holding us back?
Planning is everything. In my time as mayor, I’ve tried to move the administration toward valuing planning for the crucial role it plays. You literally can’t make a difference without planning because everything you do has to be intentional.
Ultimately, it’s my job to set things in motion. It's up to the mayor to cast that vision and to help other people see our city not necessarily as it is, but as it can be. Design and planning play a transformative role in the quality of life for our citizens.
In the past, our city has been held back by being “stuck in the norm.” That’s where fear of diversity, for example, often comes in. But it’s time to embrace an innovative mindset. Partnerships between public and private organizations are critical for bridging the gap between what government can do and what the private sector needs. My office has the power to convene people across party lines to identify a need and propose bipartisan solutions.
What planning project are you most proud of accomplishing?
Innovating infrastructure has been an important part of my time in office. It’s a problem being dealt with across the country. Currently, we have one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of Baton Rouge, focusing on roads, transportation, and traffic mitigation. A lot of that comes from me as the governmental leader, but a lot also comes from folks who serve as leaders in the community. Change is a team effort.
The changes I’ve initiated have been in the service of my vision for peace, prosperity and progress. You can see a snapshot of what we’re working toward in City Hall Plaza. Not only is it lush and beautiful, but it serves as a gathering place for the community. This one location encapsulates the values I want to bring to the community as a whole.