With an article yesterday about Maryland Sen. Tommie Broadwater a photo of Sebrone King was accompanied by a quotation mistakenly attributed to King. The quote was from one of Broadwater's former high school teachers, Eugene Curry.
At age 7, Tommie Broadwater Jr. ran errands for an Esso station perched on top of a hill overlooking a strip of bars, rib shacks and after-hours clubs in Prince George's County, just blocks from the District line.
By the time he was 10, he had worked his way inside the soul of the strip, sweeping floors, cutting ribs and cleaning up, earning pocket change and sometimes dinner so he would not have to eat at his mother's crowded table.
Now 40, Broadwater owns much of that hill in Chapel Oaks. The Ebony Inn barber shop is his. So is half of the Ebony Inn restaurant. He owns the gas station where he once ran errands and the massive supermarket that cleared away the Club Prudhom along with a paint store and shoe store.
He has traded the orange Cadillac and natty suits he picked up with his early wealth for a somber black Eldorado and conservative dark blue attire, studded by an occasional diamond. A third-term state senator and one of Maryland's most powerful black legislators, he served barbecued ribs and chicken at his last fund-raiser to two U.S. Senate candidates, three candidates for governor and a crowd of relatives and supporters.
But even as he has reached new political heights, his hard-won empire seems to be collapsing. He filed for bankruptcy protection for his Chapel Oaks Farmers Market in January, with debts of more than $1.2 million, unable to meet the elaborate financing arrangement he had stitched together. Last week he was arrested along with four other men and charged with conspiracy to traffic illegally in $70,000 worth of food stamps. And a day later his bail bonding license was suspended.
Broadwater says he will beat the charge. "There's no question in my mind that I'm innocent," he said last week, but, he added somberly, "I've got sense enough to know that I've got to deal with it. I'm not going to run and hide."
Broadwater could not hide if he wanted to. In Annapolis last Wednesday he sat in the dining room of a local inn, quietly eating his lunch as a parade of colleagues and well-wishers passed by the table. "How are you, baby?" asked a prominent white county politician, hugging him hard.
"Making it," he said.
"We're with you all the way," she said. "We'll be right there with you."
"Should I be seen with you?" a former state senator from Anne Arundel County asked before wrapping his arms around Broadwater. "Call me if there's anything I can do."
It had been a long four days. On Sunday he had gone to his legislative offices in Landover to study the report of the powerful budget subcommittee he chaired for the first time this year, and to go over his financial accounts.
Federal agents broke through the office's glass doors around noon to arrest him, and by 5 p.m. he was at home, arranging for a lawyer. On Monday he went to Baltimore for his arraignment and retrieved a car that had been impounded, and by Monday evening he was back in Annapolis for the legislature's evening session.
Tuesday he was in his seat at the Senate at 10 a.m., in committee by 1, and giving his own subcommittee report at 8:30 p.m. When he finished his presentation at 11:30 p.m. he headed "up the road," as he calls it, for work at the Ebony Inn barbecue pit until it closed at 2 a.m.
On Wednesday he was back in Annapolis, hurrying from session to meeting to interview to session, and planning to spend the evening chasing down some of the eight bond "jumpers" whose failure to appear for their court dates would cost him about $10,000.
He displayed the same ferocious appetite for hard work as a child, his friends say.
"He was--I don't want to use the word 'hustler' because of its connotations," said Eugene Curry, a former teacher of Broadwater's at Fairmont Heights Senior High School, one of two formerly segregated high schools for blacks in the county. "He was a go-getter. I used to work part-time at the Esso station on the hill. He used to come by and go to the store and get sandwiches and things for us. He was quite an appealing youngster."
Broadwater would accompany the Currys on family vacations, Curry said, and sometimes baby-sit the Curry children, one of whom is now a prominent young county lawyer. Curry especially remembers Broadwater's eagerness to seek out father figures at school to replace the real father he was rapidly losing to alcoholism.
Broadwater, one of 11 children and the oldest son, had little time for activities after school. When the school day finished around 3:30 p.m., he would walk his sweetheart Lillian home to Cedar Heights and be at a job at the Ebony or the Glass House Drive-In by 4.
Others in the predominantly black community lived as Broadwater did, Curry said. When Broadwater's parents moved their 11 children into a two-bedroom cinderblock in Chapel Oaks, most of the streets were still unpaved. Visitors to Sheriff Road nightspots, according to Broadwater's partner, Sebrone King, would jump into their cars at the first sign of rain lest they have to pay $2 to a mule cart driver to pull their autos up the muddy hill.
"I think people just admired him rising above the circumstances like he did," Curry said. "He didn't spend time bemoaning the fact that he had to do these things, he just did them."
When Lillian became pregnant, Broadwater married her though she was only 15 and he only a year older. They married on a weekend visit home from the hospital where he was recovering from tuberculosis. They honeymooned for a night in her mother's house, and have been married since.
When he left the hospital in 1959, after spending a year there, he went back to high school to finish. At 19, he went to Southeastern University in the District for a year, while selling Progessive Life Insurance to support his wife and the first two of their four children.
Broadwater liked selling insurance. "The job gave me respectability, which is just what I wanted," he said. But although insurance paid for a three-bedroom home in the black middle-class town of Glenarden, it was not enough.
"In the area I was raised in," Broadwater said, "the people who had the big money were the gamblers or the bondsmen or had a business. Mr. Hamilton a former employer used to take me around in his car. He'd show me the difference. He'd say, 'You don't want to be like that, son. You don't want to flash your money. You want to be somebody who'll go to the bank, sign your name and get anything you want.' "
Broadwater decided he would become a bondsman about 1968. "It was nothing for him to get up at 2 a.m. and go write a bond to make $20," said Wayne Curry, Eugene's son.
He also began his career in politics in 1968, as a Glenarden town councilman, building a reputation for hardball pragmatism with one goal in mind--jobs and dollars for blacks.
"I was going to do whatever was necessary to get blacks on board," he said, "to get some of the goodies for us."
He is credited with winning dozens of appointments for blacks, including judgeships and slots on the leading Democratic ticket for state delegate, county council, central committee and school board. He picked up critics along the way, who objected to a style they considered flamboyant--the large cars, bright suits and a small pistol he carried to work. But Broadwater largely ignored the criticism and concentrated on politics, fund raising, bargaining and proving his ability to work within the white establishment.
"I told my people, if we're going to rub shoulders with the big wheels, they've got to know we can deliver," he said. Once this prowess was repeatedly demonstrated, he said, "It became understood. If there were three appointments, we would get one."
But politics was not enough for Broadwater, who still yearned to prove that he was more than a gun-toting bondsman running a go-go parlor on the side. He began to dream of the empty supermarket he had bought in the mid-1970s. In his mind, it was not an empty supermarket that the Safeway organization couldn't manage, but a place to sell fresh meats and vegetables and a boost to the deteriorating community. It would be a model of black economic power with him at its center.
He opened it as the Farmers Market in the fall of 1981. But by then, the economy was turning sour, and some of the hardest hit were his regular customers. He could not get enough capital to renovate and stock his market, for the banks, like his friends, argued that a solitary man with no grocery experience could not succeed where a major chain had failed.
Also changed were the blacks, who at one time would leave the movie houses on U Street NW and head for the Ebony Inn to sip whiskey and listen to jazz. Now, they either stayed in the District after Sunday beer sales were legalized or moved further into the suburbs, adopting a life style that did not include places like the Ebony.
And the bonding business, the source of his first wealth, also changed. The courts began to release more people either on their recognizance or with a small payment, leaving only the risky cases for the bondsmen. In recent months, Broadwater began to complain uncharacteristically that he wanted to escape the grinding pace of running three businesses at once.
"I'm tired," he told a reporter in January, as the news of his bankruptcy spread. "I've worked hard all my life. I want to be like these white people. I want to travel. I want to take my wife someplace. We've never been on any vacations. I would like to have one job and my political career."
These days, even as Broadwater faces an uncertain future, the swagger of old occasionally surfaces.
Asked last week what he would do if he is convicted and has to leave politics, he replied: "How the hell do I know? No, I haven't even thought about that yet. I'm concentrating on winning. If you're a winner, you're a winner. If I think about failing, all I know is I've got to win that much harder."