FBI's Bromwell tapes reveal sharp remarks

The Baltimore Sun

In the Bromwell tapes, few political figures escape unscathed.

Thomas L. Bromwell Sr., a Baltimore County Democrat in the General Assembly for 23 years, repeatedly describes a former Maryland governor with a vulgar term and uses another profanity to characterize the state's then-lieutenant governor, according to transcripts of the secret recordings made by the FBI and released in federal court this week.

Bromwell, 58, who faces public corruption charges with his wife at a trial expected to begin this fall, also dismisses the Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton with racial epithets after separate encounters with the civil rights leaders, court documents show.

And the former state senator, once considered among the most influential in Annapolis, acknowledged that he felt compelled to vote a black colleague out of the legislative body because of his race.

The incendiary comments about women and minorities during a rollicking steakhouse dinner in Baltimore in 2001 have emerged as key evidence in a years-long federal investigation that resulted in a 33-count indictment against Bromwell and his wife, Mary Patricia.

Before he was indicted in October 2005, Bromwell cultivated an outrageous, larger-than-life persona during more than two decades in Annapolis. But news of Bromwell's vulgar, boastful and caustic conversations came as an embarrassment, if not a great shock, to his former colleagues in Annapolis.

"Tommy's flamboyant. Always was, from the way he dressed to his whole demeanor," said Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Democrat who took over Bromwell's Baltimore County seat in 2002. "If he walked in here, everybody would probably turn their heads and say, 'There's Tommy Bromwell.'"

Federal prosecutors have accused Bromwell of accepting bribes from a local construction company executive in exchange for help in securing publicly funded contracts.

His wife, Mary Patricia Bromwell, 43, is accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a subcontractor controlled by that construction company in return for her husband's influence. The trial was recently delayed until fall.

The Bromwells, who did not return calls seeking comment this week, have denied the charges.

While in the Senate, Bromwell sported a huge gold ring he described as "big and gaudy and loud" - much like himself. A big man at well over 6 feet with a thick Bawlamer accent, the former tavern owner from Perry Hall was a colorful and imposing figure and close friend to lobbyists.

His voting record was usually socially conservative with a streak of economic populism reflecting his largely blue-collar district.

"I'm a Democrat, but I'm a capitalist, okay?" Bromwell is quoted in tape transcripts of a November 2001 meeting with two undercover FBI informants.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller - one of a few major players in Maryland politics to emerge largely unscathed in Bromwell's conversations - said the case should be resolved as quickly as possible for the good of the legislature.

Bromwell tried and failed to overthrow Miller as Senate president.

"Last year, I took him on," Bromwell said in November 2001, according to the FBI tapes. "And we worked it out."

The two reconciled enough that Bromwell got to keep his committee chairmanship.

"It was very distressing," Miller said of Bromwell's conversations. "I'm glad nobody brought it up before the Senate today, because it was heart-wrenching. Let's hope this gets resolved as quickly as possible, because there's no benefit to it lingering."

But the Bromwell story could reverberate in Annapolis this year. Some liberal and good-government groups are pushing for a voluntary system of taxpayer-funded campaigns for the General Assembly, and they were quick to pounce on Bromwell's claims of being a "rainmaker" for his corporate friends as evidence that the state needs to act to get big money out of politics.

"It's past time to consider public finance ... particularly given what we read in the paper about the role a former senator played," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Sean Dobson, interim executive director of Progressive Maryland, a liberal advocacy group, said public financing, which passed the House last year, is bottled up in a Senate committee.

He said his group and others will make a public push on the issue next week, highlighting Bromwell's claims to have pushed legislation to help Comcast and other corporations that supported him.

"Bromwell was the second-most -owerful senator for many years," Dobson said. "He's not some isolated bad apple. He lifted a curtain onto the inner workings of the Senate, and now this great institution has a stain on it. If senators want to clean that stain, they need to show they're not beholden to special interests. They need to pass public financing for campaigns."

Though federal authorities said in court papers that more than 100 secret recordings were produced as part of the influence-peddling probe, they only expect to play eight tapes for the jury.

In the recordings, Bromwell's tongue appears loosened by alcohol and unencumbered by political correctness, offering frank, off-the-cuff assessments of politicians and business leaders.

Some, including former Gov. Marvin Mandel and Baltimore developer John Paterakis, are portrayed glowingly. He pours praise on former Senate Minority Leader F. Vernon Boozer - a Baltimore County Republican and early political influence on Bromwell - and former Mandel aides Frank A. DeFilippo and Maurice Wyatt.

Others, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended a Bromwell fundraiser, drew barbs.

In a transcript of the secretly taped conversation in 2001, Bromwell recalls for two FBI informants how Sharpton, the New York-based activist, showed up at one of the senator's fundraisers. Sharpton apparently went with Larry Young, who had been expelled from the Senate for a string of ethics violations, including using his office to enrich his private businesses.

Bromwell told them his vote to push Young out of the Senate was the worst he ever cast, according to the transcript. But of Sharpton, Bromwell said: "I didn't invite him, but I had to live with it." Later, the senator added: "You know what? I don't use the N-word, but he was an N."

The conversation later touches on a Bromwell encounter with Jackson at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York.

"I can understand why people love Jesse," Bromwell said, according to the transcript. "Let me tell you what Jesse was. I was with a liberal Democrat from Montgomery County, and he talked down to her like she was a piece of (expletive)."

Bromwell continued, "He talked down to her like she was a [expletive] Arab."

A proponent of slots, Bromwell lashes out at then Gov. Parris N. Glendening for his opposition.

"Next year we'll get slots at the track. This governor don't want slot machines," Bromwell said, describing Glendening later with profanity.

The former governor and Young could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bromwell used a vulgar term and the word liberal to label the then-lieutenant governor. She did not return a reporter's call yesterday.

"I hate to use that word, but that's what she is," Bromwell said, according to the transcript.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com andrew.green@baltsun.com

For previous stories on the public corruption case, go to baltimoresun.com/bromwell

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