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Pioneering black senator celebrated

Brown: Broadwater was 'game-changer' for African-Americans in politics

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Published on: Thursday, June 14, 2012

By Dana Amihere

Tommie Broadwater, elected Prince George’s County’s first black senator, was honored Saturday in conjunction with his 70th birthday.

Friends and colleagues described the former senator as a “pioneer” and a “trailblazer.”

“Tommie Broadwater was a game-changer for African-Americans in politics, not only in Prince George’s County but in Maryland. He understood the importance of what that historic first (first black senator in the state outside Baltimore City) meant because he created a lot of other firsts: first African-American appointed to the Democratic Central Committee of Prince George’s County, to the State Lottery Commission, first African-American district court judge,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said. “I don’t think I would be lieutenant governor today if it hadn’t been for Tommie Broadwater’s work decades ago in blazing the trail.”

Sen. Ben Cardin said, “Tommie broke many barriers. He set the standard for how to represent a community.”

Broadwater himself added “hell raiser” to the list.

“People want clear direction and leadership. They want solutions and answers to their problems and needs. During the Broadwater Administration, people got those things. They enjoyed delivery on a promise,” Broadwater said.

This usually meant ruffling some feathers, he recalled.

A freshman senator in the midst of racially tense times, Broadwater often met resistance in trying to push what he calls the “black agenda,” which included increased minority participation in state hiring and contracting and getting more blacks into positions of power in key county organizations.

“Blacks had unique problems within our communities, and we needed somebody to get the job done,” he said.

But this sort of change required action from the ground up. Broadwater described having made such a difference countywide and statewide by increasing blacks’ participation in the political scene. He engaged the community in everything from putting stamps on letters to be mailed out to showing up at the polls on Election Day.

Broadwater said, “We (blacks) became a very important part of the (Democratic) party itself. We wanted a piece of the action.” 

He joked that polling precinct results used to be as staggering as 502-3 or 450-1. He said he used to tease, “Who was that one person who voted differently?”

Broadwater helmed the No. 1 voting district in the state for Democrats and routinely had more fundraising dollars coming in for the party than anyone else. While the 25th district — later changed to the 24th district — wasn’t home to the wealthiest blacks at the time, Broadwater was able to motivate more people to give money, even if it was only a small amount.

Nobody had ever seen this kind of civic activism from blacks before, Broadwater said.

As a businessman and entrepreneur before taking office in 1974, Broadwater said he made a push to give back to community he came from in a big way. During his tenure, he gave away thousands of dollars in scholarship money to college-bound teens who had excelled in academics or athletics.

Following the 90-day session of the General Assembly, Broadwater said he held interviews for nearly a month with students and parents.

“I was like a doctor holding appointments every 15 minutes,” he said.

While he was only allotted $13,500 a year to give away in scholarships, Broadwater said he routinely gave away $45,000-$50,000 a year to deserving kids.

While “leveling the playing field” as part of the newly formed budget and tax committee was a highlight of his burgeoning careers, he said that seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when they knew they were going to be able to pay for college was the most rewarding part of his job.

“Tommie understood the significance of what his election meant,” Brown said, “and he made sure that inured to the benefit of the entire African-American community.”

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