By Elliott Davis and Emily Top, Capital News Service
Elijah Cummings became known to the nation as a Democratic leader in Congress. But his roots in public service are in Annapolis, where he is being remembered fondly by officials from both parties.
Rep. Cummings, D-Baltimore, of Maryland’s seventh congressional district, died Thursday morning of complications from long-term health problems.
Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates representing a Baltimore City district from 1983 to 1996, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Maryland, Cummings became the first African-American Speaker Pro Tem, in 1995.
(2017) Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, speaks at the House Oversight Committee hearing (Tom Hausman/Capital News Service)
Cummings also held various leadership positions — as vice chair for the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee and the Economic Matters Committee. Between 1984 and 1985, Cummings was the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, said in a statement that he is “deeply saddened” by Cummings’ death. He called the late congressman a “fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades.”
“Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives,” Hogan said “He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better. Maryland’s First Lady and I ask Marylanders to join us in praying for his loved ones, his constituents, and his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates in Cummings’ district, spoke Thursday morning of Rep. Cummings’ passing on “The C4 Show”, WBAL, FM 101.5.
“Elijah Cummings in many ways represented what Baltimore was about — somebody that came from humble beginnings,” Mitchell said.
Cummings was the son of sharecroppers from South Carolina whose family moved to Baltimore to find a better life. From these beginnings, Cummings went on to become one of the most powerful people in politics, Mitchell said. “It is truly an American story.”
Mitchell said that the people of Baltimore were really the beneficiaries of Cummings’ work in office. Annually, Cummings would host a job fair in Baltimore and he would ensure that the corporate participants were actually planning on hiring from among those who showed up.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot called Cummings a “legendary son of Baltimore” and an “extraordinary Marylander.”
“There are so many ways to describe this remarkable man who grew up in the most modest of circumstances, rose to once-unimaginable heights of political power, and never, ever stopped fighting to give others the same opportunities he had,” Franchot said in the statement. “In the days to come, we will assemble our thoughts and do the best we can to do justice to the life and golden legacy of Elijah Cummings.”
Franchot added: “Today, however, I’ll simply say that we’ve lost our friend at a time when our city, state and country needs his voice and his moral clarity more than ever before. There will never be another Elijah Cummings. For the good of our embattled nation, however, and for the countless children and families who would have long been forgotten if not for Elijah’s good fight, we must try so much harder to live up to the values that defined his life.
On Facebook, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican, wrote Cummings was “a trailblazer who was unafraid to speak up for what he believed in and the people he represented.”
Rutherford continued: “It is times like these that we put politics aside and remember a man who deeply cared for the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland.”
In a series of tweets early Thursday morning, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, noted that Cummings was “front and center, helping to calm the unrest” in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.
“He was also my friend, my Congressman and a mentor to me and so many elected leaders in Maryland,” Jones said in the tweets. “As the first African-American Speaker Pro Tem in the Maryland House of Delegates, he paved the way for many of us to be successful today. Maryland has lost a treasure. We all say none of us are irreplaceable in elected office. But there will never be another Elijah Cummings.”
On Twitter, Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote, “The passing of Elijah Cummings is a blow to Maryland and to the US. He was (a) warrior for fairness, justice and democracy. He was a peerless orator, champion of the downtrodden and a wonderful friend. We are all poorer for his passing. @RepCummings”
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said in a statement that Cummings was a “role model, friend, icon, and one of the people I most admired in Maryland politics.”
“I cherished every conversation we had, joke we shared, and insight he could provide,” Miller added in the statement. “He was a giant of a man with a gentle soul, and every Marylander benefited from his years of public service. Elijah was fond of the quote ‘Public Service is the rent we pay for our space on this earth,’ and he lived the spirit of those words every day. My thoughts are with Elijah’s three children, his wife Dr. Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, and his entire family and extended Maryland family during this time of mourning. He will truly be missed, may he Rest In Peace.”
On WBAL’s News Radio, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said he got choked up when he heard the news about Cummings’ death.
“He appreciated the people who put their value and trust in him, and he respected that, and you know as a partisan, as a non-partisan, but more importantly, as an American, and certainly a Marylander, you have to love him for that, and I did,” said Steele, also former chair of the Republican National Committee.
Steele later added, “He was the guy who not only represented power, but often times spoke truth to power, to that very same power. And I think that’s something that a lot of people admired and respected about him…”
Maryland State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who worked with Cummings for 32 years, said in a statement, “You didn’t have to know Elijah personally to know he was a good, not just a great, man. What a gift he was to all of us.”