When Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan needed a last-minute endorsement from the black community in his efforts to save his doomed police-chief nominee last month, he made a late-afternoon foray to a dimly lit beer and ribs restaurant, the Ebony Inn, to talk with state Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr.
When Gov. Harry Hughes' ranking black adviser was being squeezed out of her job in the administration, it was Broadwater and another black legislator who confronted the governor at a Democratic Party function to seek a meeting on the issue.
When District of Columbia Del. Walter Fauntroy came to the State House last week to assauge angry Jewist legislators and win their support for the D.C. voting rights amendment, it was in Room 215 -- Broadwater's office in the Senate Building -- where the sensitive meetings took place.
Three times in the past two months Broadwater, the Democratic senator from what is often called "the black district" of Prince George's County has been in the thick of important local controversies.
The senator -- for years the object of both envy and derision among some black leaders because of his relationship with the once-powerful county Democratic Party -- is now emerging as "a force to be reckoned with in his own right," said one black leader.
"There is a feeling, perhaps a grudging one, that he is able to stand on his own," said the black activist, who has never been a Broadwater fan.
But Broadwater, no matter what the changing perceptions of his power, is doing his job with his own, neverchanging style.
In the meeting with Jewish legislators last week, Broadwater, who is passionately concerned about the voting rights amendment that lost by one vote in the House of Delegates last session, started to come on so strong that Fauntroy stepped in to suggest that the conversation be "elevated," according to one participant.
Although Broadwater will say little about the meeting, he asserts with no compunction, "Sure I'm outspoken, and everyone knows it.I'm for my people. I want to see us get a better piece of the action."
To that end, Broadwater has unabashedly sought patronage positions for blacks in Prince George's County, and his concentration on that has sometimes drawn criticism.
"There are enough laws on the books at present to do anything we want. The problem we face is we need key people in key positions to help get more people in more positions," he says, naming judges, council members, administrators and various board members he has helped to promote.
Boradwater's two major legislative goals this year are ratification of the voting rights amendment and winning an increase in the governor's proposed 11 percent raise in welfare benefits. Both will be tough -- some say impossible -- battles to win.
Last year, Broadwater was the target in a bitter primary fight in his 25th District, which stretches from Enterprise Estates to Seat Pleasant and around to Mount Rainier. Style was the major issue, with opponents saying Broadwater, a bail bondsman and restaurateur, was "too much of a street person, too flamboyant with his bush and diamond rings and Cadillac."
Although those trappings are still there, Broadwater says with a smile, "Look, I'm wearing a gray flannel suit and black shoes." Broadwater says his opponents cannot attack him for being ineffective "so they make it an image thing.They're trying to stereotype it, like you have to be a lawyer or from Harvard or something to make it. Well, I've proven that that isn't true."