A statement in an article in last week's Maryland Weekly on the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee was misattributed because of an editing error. State Sen. Tommie Broadwater was quoted as saying: "The problem with Jerry Perry is she's not acceptable to the black community, and she's not acceptable to a lot of the women's groups because she's not pro-choice." The quote was part of a longer statement by another senator, who asked not to be identified.
One of the most dramatic moments during a marathon, tension-filled meeting of the Democratic Central Committee last week came when the county's only black state senator--for years a pillar of the county's long-dominant Democratic organization--rose to denounce his fellow senators and even his friend, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), for failing to push a black for the important vacancy being considered that night.
State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, to the cheers of dozens of supporters in the audience, demanded that the committee appoint a black to a House of Delegates vacancy in the 25th Legislative District, which has a black majority. The appointment, he said, would be a recognition of the years of black voter loyalty that had helped many committee members gain and keep elective office.
"Steny Hoyer was a dead politician in Prince George's County," Broadwater maintained. "We resurrected Steny Hoyer in the 1980 special congressional election ."
"It disturbs me to have to come down here," he said later, "because if you look at the county, and it's 40 percent black, and you have a district that's 62 percent black, there should be no question that the appointment should be black.
"And we had agreed that it would be, until a formal call came from my good friend, Steny Hoyer." Broadwater told the crowd of observers, candidates, central committee members and fellow officials that Hoyer had reaffirmed his support for a white party activist named Martha Weber and thus cleared the way for the other state senators to do the same.
It was an important moment for Broadwater, his associates said later. They noted that for years, Broadwater has considered Hoyer and some of his fellow state senators to be his friends and political allies. They said that Broadwater has also counseled more impatient young blacks to work with the establishment, as he has.
Although the central committee in the end voted to appoint Jerry Eileen Perry, a black woman, to fill the seat, the decision by Hoyer and the state senators to support Weber has embittered Broadwater. It has sorely tested his relations with the other senators, associates said.
"Tommy was always the one saying, 'Hold on now, they're all right, they're our friends,' " said a politically active young black lawyer. "Now it's all over." Broadwater's angry statement before the committee, said the lawyer, "was a declaration of war."
Other black Democrats said Broadwater's public revelation of the behind-the-scenes negotiations over the seat could signal the start of an even more aggressive effort by Broadwater and other black leaders to gain more representation in the 30-member General Assembly, as well as in other offices.
Blacks from a number of political groups and parts of the election district said they were angry that Hoyer, who won his first election bid in 1980 with the help of black voters and workers, did not push for a black appointment or stay neutral in the fight. And many said they were also angry at what they saw as the insensitivity of the other senators to the political concerns of the growing black population.
"I'm miffed at Steny," said one black community leader and precinct chairman from the Kettering area. "He's with us ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of the time--you don't throw out a guy because of [one vote] -- but we're with Broadwater a hundred percent.
"I'm surprised that on such a major issue Steny was on the wrong side. He needs our votes," said the precinct chairman. "We could start grooming a black candidate as a stalking horse. He might not win, but with a strong Republican candidate . . . we could take enough votes away from him so that Hoyer could lose."
Hoyer said through spokeswoman Sherry Conway that he "really didn't want to talk about it." But, said Conway, Hoyer wanted to emphasize that he supported Weber because her views were more compatible with his own, because she had run in the primary election and come close to winning, and because he felt she could best replace the departing delegate, Lorraine Sheehan, a leader of the pro-choice and mental health advocacy groups.
For their part, the senators were annoyed that Broadwater could not agree with the 25th District's conservative senator, B.W. (Mike) Donovan, on the choice of a candidate. Broadwater opposed both Weber, a liberal, and Perry, who during an earlier election bid tried to ally herself with Donovan, as too conservative. But the senators also seemed to resent Broadwater's loud public demand that they support a black because he demanded it.
"The problem with Jerry Perry is she's not acceptable to the black community, and she's not acceptable to a lot of the women's groups because she's not pro-choice," said Broadwater.
Broadwater denied that he would become a maverick as a result of the struggle last week, saying, "Basically I'm part of the network in Annapolis that gets the job done, and the system's been pretty good to us . . . . But I'll tell you one thing. They taught me a good lesson.
"I think the blowup will make us realize that we cannot take anything for granted, and can't take anybody for granted."