State Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr. (D-Prince George's), immaculate in a dark three-piece suit, a thick budget book under his arm, walked down the corridor of the Senate Office Building late this afternoon prepared for his Rules Committee meeting as if nothing had happened.
Waiting for him was Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg, who asked softly, "you all right, buddy?"
"Making it," was the trademark answer from Broadwater, who earlier today appeared before a federal magistrate in Baltimore on charges of conspiring to traffic illegally in food stamps.
"It's been a nightmare," Broadwater added. "I was sitting on the phone at 11:30 yesterday morning when they federal agents came in. They took me out in handcuffs and I haven't had a chance to really think about what's happened since then."
Down the hall, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Broadwater's colleague from Prince George's, saw Broadwater, stopped short and turned in the other direction.
"I can't believe he's here," Miller said. "I don't know if I'm even ready to face him after what he's just been through. He's got guts, I'll say that. But it's a tough situation for him. A shadow's been cast, not only on him, but on all of us. There are already all sorts of food stamps jokes flying around. This thing is on the lips of everyone in the state."
Broadwater's arrest inevitably raised questions about his political future.
"Right now I'm here to do my job and do it better than ever," Broadwater said. "If I find out I can't handle it, I might have to do something else. But right now it's a matter for the courts, we've got a fight and we're going to fight it."
Broadwater met with Steinberg and Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the budget and tax committee, on which Broadwater is a subcommittee chairman. He assured both men he could continue to carry out his job.
"For now," Steinberg said, "he will continue as long as he can handle it emotionally and time-wise. We're just going to go on a day-to-day basis. We really can't afford to lose him now. His committee is very closely divided on most issues and his vote ro a crucial one to Prince George's and Baltimore City."
The 41-year-old three-term senator then met with his colleagues in a special meeting of the black caucus, called by chairman Clarence W. Blount to discuss the situation.
"We're totally in support of the senator," Blount said after hearing Broadwater speak at the 30-minute meeting.
As the caucus broke up, many members stopped for a word with Broadwater, putting an arm around his shoulder, patting him on the back.
But there was already speculation about who would replace Broadwater should he be forced to step down. The two most experienced delegates from Broadwater's district, Francis J. Santangelo and Nathaniel G. Exum, would be the logical choices, according to most people.
Broadwater said he did not plan to say anything about the situation during tonight's Senate proceeedings. "I just want to function the best I can as a senator," he said, tapping his budget book. "Right now, I'm just worried about this budget."