Hours before voters in Maryland’s 7th District head to the polls for a special primary election to determine the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’ likely successor, the Democratic front-runners on Monday were touting their experience in politics.
Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., said he is the best candidate to succeed Cummings because he represented the district prior to Cummings and knows how to do the job.
“I did the job for ten years. I did it with distinction. I did it with an overwhelming show of support…In Congress, experience counts and seniority matters. And I’m the only candidate running that’s proven in this job, tested in this job, and ready to go to work on behalf of the 7th district on day one,” Mfume told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Monday.
“So that makes — and I think it should make — a bit of a difference in the minds of voters because these are very difficult times in Washington. And when you can send someone who is experienced, who has been proven and tested — I think that outweighs any other considerations that we may have.”
Mfume, 71, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1987 to February 1996, when he resigned to become president of the NAACP. Mfume served in that position until 2004, when he resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment and nepotism — charges he has steadfastly denied although he did admit to using poor judgment by having a relationship with a NAACP staffer. The Baltimore native ran for U.S. Senate in 2006 but lost the primary election to now-Sen. Ben Cardin.
Mfume, Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and State Sen. Jill Carter, Baltimore City, are considered by many as the top contenders for the Democratic nomination. Rockeymoore Cummings, who resigned as chair of the Maryland Democratic Party last November after 11 months in the post, had raised $208,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Mfume has raised $265,901 and Carter has raised $54,000, according to the FEC.
There are a total of 32 candidates in race — 24 Democrats and 8 Republicans. The district is predominantly African American and overwhelmingly Democratic. It includes most of Baltimore City, parts of Baltimore County and the majority of Howard County.
The special primary election will be held on Tuesday. The special general election will be held on April 28. but historically the Democratic primary victors in Maryland usually win the general election, too. The winner will face re-election in November.
Carter, 56, said she believes she is the best candidate to succeed Cummings because of her 17 years of service in the General Assembly and track record of independence.
“I believe I’m the best candidate because of my track record of being a legislator — not only being a successful and effective legislator — but being a legislator that has had to overcome some great obstacles and often fight powerful Democrat leadership in order to get things done.
“While times are changing in the legislature…for many years when I was in the House of Delegates — getting the very most basic things accomplished were much more difficult and so I think that’s tested in terms of proving that I am the type of legislator and representative that’s always going to put people first — even above political interests.”
Carter, an attorney and a lifelong Baltimore resident, served in the House of Delegates from 2003-17. She subsequently served as director of the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement. Gov. Larry Hogan appointed her to the state Senate in May 2018 to replace former Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, who resigned before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Later that year Carter won the primary and general elections. Carter was a delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous as well as the Baltimore Sun have endorsed Carter.
Rockeymoore Cummings, 49, has a doctorate in political science and owns a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She said she is the best candidate to succeed her late husband because of her extensive public policy experience.
“I am poised and prepared to not only carry forward that legacy but also build on it. I have experience working in Congress. I was a House Ways and Means staffer. I also ran a congressional office for a former member of Congress. I have worked on policy issues for the past 25 years across the areas of health, education and economic security — all very important for the district.
“Of course, I live in the district and I know the pulse of the community. I’ve listened carefully — not only as the wife of a congressman but also as the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party — to the needs of the constituents.”
MarylandReporter.com asked both Carter and Mfume what they would do to foster bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill.
“You have to appeal to common interests and you also have to build relationships with your colleagues…and find common ground. But even before that, sometimes it’s not that easy to do — and you have to take more aggressive tactics…I’m a very activist legislator and I believe we need that in the Congress as well,” Carter said.
Mfume would take a different approach. “I would reach out to people who may be diametrically opposed to me to listen to what they have to say and make them listen to my side of things. And then you try the areas and the touch points — the similarities that exist — and once you are able to identify similarities you start building from there,” he said.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, a Democrat, said any of the front-runners would be a good successor to Cummings.
“The top-tier candidates all have a very strong and compelling argument to make as to why they would be the best person to succeed Elijah Cummings.”
Gansler and Cummings both served as Maryland co-chairs of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Gansler described Cummings as “an amazing person and an amazing politician.” Gansler reiterated his vote of the confidence in the top-tier candidates.
“There’s a lot of very compelling stories behind these candidates… from [University of Baltimore Law School Dean] Michael Higginbotham to Jill Carter to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings to Kweisi Mfume…you can see how any of the top-tier candidates could win the race and also have the vision to see how they would really be able to carry on Congressman Cummings legacy.”
Cummings, an icon in his district, died on Oct. 17, 2019, at age 68. He served in Congress for 12 terms (1996-2019). As chair of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, he led a slate of high-profile hearings that included testimony from President Donald Trump’s former attorney and personal “fixer” Michael Cohen. Cummings’ committee was one of six investigating the president, with whom he often butted heads. The House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18. The Senate is expected to acquit Trump in a vote scheduled for Wednesday.
Cummings was beloved in Baltimore. He took to the streets of city during the 2015 riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police and spoke with constituents and urged them to remain calm. Cummings commuted to Washington, D.C. from his home in West Baltimore.