Bromwell's deep dip in the public trough

Inside job: The Baltimore County senator's grab for gold reinforces every cynical stereotype.

September 27, 2000

YOU HAVE TO admire the in-your-face nerve of it all.

State Sen. Thomas Bromwell's breathtaking grab for the gold stands amid the most audacious high-level patronage of recent times. The one-time bar owner now enters the Pantheon of political self-dealers.

He'll be riding around in a car financed by a $30,000 allowance that comes with his new salary of $150,000.

To make the situation even more breathtaking, he'll be managing a $1 billion insurance business -- a job for which he has almost no qualification or experience.

Sometimes in politics, it's not enough to get the good job. To show real contempt for process and to wield real power, the appointee has to be ill-equipped for the work as well.

What we have is a classic case of "honest graft," the term proudly offered years ago by Tammany Hall's George Washington Plunkitt, himself a state senator in New York.

Said Plunkitt, "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

The b'hoys of Maryland politics could only smile in affirmation.

Though times have changed a bit in Annapolis, Mr. Bromwell's move fulfills a still-prevalent dream. Legislators hang around the General Assembly for years waiting to get "made," ideally moving from one public payroll to another without missing a payday. The patient faithful, good soldiers for the Democrats who tend to have the power in Maryland, are rewarded with judgeships and other public positions.

Yet, some saw in Tommy Bromwell the difference between old and new. Here was a boisterous good old boy who worked at least as hard as the good government types, who knew complicated issues and seemed to have some genuine interest in public policy.

Perhaps it is possible that going for the main chance is not incompatible with being a good, hardworking legislator or insurance executive.

But one hoped for more. There was a time when Tommy Bromwell seemed a good bet for higher office: county executive, president of the state Senate, even the U.S. Congress.

Now he'll make more money than he would have in any of those jobs. And he won't have to do any more campaigning. Nice work if you can get it.

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