Tommie Broadwater Jr., former Md. senator and power broker, dies at 81
Tommie Broadwater Jr., a longtime power broker in Maryland politics who was the first African American to represent Prince George’s County in the state senate, where he lost his seat after he was convicted on charges stemming from food stamp fraud, died at 81.
A representative of J.B. Jenkins Funeral Home in Hyattsville, Md., confirmed his death. Additional details were not immediately available.
Mr. Broadwater rose from an impoverished upbringing in Prince George’s County to become one of the area’s most prominent Black entrepreneurs, with businesses over the years that included a bail bond agency, a drive-through liquor store, a barbecue rib restaurant, the Ebony Inn nightspot and a grocery store, all located in an area on Sheriff Road that was dubbed the Hill.
He was elected to the state senate in 1974 and remained a dominant political figure in the decades that followed as Prince George’s County began to evolve from a majority-White jurisdiction into a center of economic and political opportunity for African Americans.
As one of the few Black members of the state senate, he became, as journalist and political commentator Juan Williams once described him, the “longtime voice for working-class Blacks in the county.”
“Tommie was an effective leader because he deeply understood the challenges facing many Marylanders and had the willpower and political instincts necessary to find solutions,” U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
“As someone who managed to escape poverty through hard work and ingenuity,” Hoyer continued, “he overcame many of those same challenges. Throughout his life, Tommie sought to better himself and his entire community. He succeeded in both pursuits.”
Mr. Broadwater was forced from office in 1983, when he was convicted on charges related to a conspiracy to launder $70,000 in illegally procured food stamps through his grocery. Also convicted were his daughter Jacqueline and three other co-defendants.
He spent four months in a federal prison and was automatically suspended from the state senate upon his sentencing. He told The Washington Post years later that he “shouldn’t have been sent to jail” and that federal authorities use food stamps in ploys “to set people up.”
Mr. Broadwater ran unsuccessfully three more times for public office. He remained a central figure in Prince George’s County politics, an adviser to officeholders and aspirants alike.
“He’s the Godfather,” Rushern L. Baker III, who served in the Maryland House of Delegates and later as Prince George’s County Executive, told The Post in 2001. “If you’re going to make a political move in Prince George’s County, especially if you’re an African American, you talk to Tommie. People won’t take you seriously unless they know you’ve gone to see Tommie.”
As recently as last month and the month before, political dignitaries gathered in Prince George’s County to honor him.
Mr. Broadwater, the second of 10 children, was born in Washington on June 9, 1942. His father was a construction worker and his mother was a cook.
He grew up in Prince George’s County, attending the then-segregated public schools, and pumping gas and doing other odd jobs in the neighborhood where he would later operate his businesses.
“I used to spend all my money to buy paper [play] money to count money,” he told The Post, earning the nickname Rocky — short for Rockefeller — in an early display of his entrepreneurial spirit.
Mr. Broadwater attended the old Southeastern University in the District before starting his career in insurance sales. He won his first elective office, a spot on the Glenarden Town Council, in 1968, the year he turned 26.
Two years later, he was named to the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee. In the state senate, he served on the Budget and Taxation and the Rules Committees, as well as on joint committees on corrections and transportation.
Mr. Broadwater was married to the former Lillian Prince and had four children. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Broadwater was predeceased by his daughter Tanya, who died at 38 of respiratory failure and an infection. “You got to keep moving,” he told The Post, reflecting on that tragedy and other struggles in his life. “You just keep moving.”