By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
Kweisi Mfume, former President of the NAACP, once represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District prior to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, the man he eulogized on Oct. 25.
In a wide-ranging interview with the AFRO, Mfume methodically laid out his reasons for pursuing the 7th District seat once again in the wake of the death of his friend.
“Thirty days ago Elijah was with us…and there was not a real hole as there is now politically for our district and all of the people that are part of the district… then from out of nowhere the death angel appeared and things changed immediately,” said Mfume, who held the venerable 7th District seat from 1987 to 1996. Before Mfume, the seat was occupied by the legendary Parren J. Mitchell, who represented the 7th from 1971 to 1987.
“So, now Elijah is not here and yet the needs that he believed in and the things he fought for are all still here and they really do need to be advanced, they need to be advocated,” Mfume said. “And there are a lot of other issues that need to be brought to the front if we’re going to have at least the kind of quality of life that we think and believe we deserve in the 7th Congressional District.”
There are others who seek to fill the void left by the late Congressman. Veteran Annapolis legislator, House Majority Whip Rep.Talmadge Branch, who represents the 45th District of Baltimore City, has also announced his candidacy for the 7th.
Another member of the Maryland House mentioned as a possible contender for Cummings’ former Congressional seat is Del. Keith Haynes, who represents District 44A of Baltimore City.
Senator Jill P. Carter is perhaps the most high profile Maryland lawmaker to strongly consider making a bid for the 7th. Carter, who represents the 41st District of Baltimore City has formed an exploratory committee and several influential Baltimore leaders have pledged their support to Carter, if she decides to officially launch a campaign to represent the 7th District.
“The problem with us African-Americans is we don’t know how to retire our leaders, we only know how to bury them,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, one of the most prominent defense attorneys in the state. Gordon has emerged as a leader specifically on issues of law enforcement reform and has been mentioned as a political candidate for various local and statewide offices over the years.
“I think at this point in time for Kweisi, I think he should just allow the energetic, younger generation to kind of, pass the baton and let them move forward. Jill Carter is the only elected official who is consistent, whose ideology is consistent with the traditions of Elijah Cummings that I can think of. I can’t think of anyone else who has the grit, who has the fight, who has the guts to stand up and stand out even when it means standing alone.”
Although it has been more than two decades since Mfume has held elected office he maintains his style of public service and his personal story equips him to lead a district where huge swaths of the population face challenges, some of them catastrophic.
“I think the record will show that I’m proven, I know I’ve been tested,” said Mfume. “I believe people trusted and still trust in my commitment and all that makes me ready to work on day one.” Mfume embraces many of the policy platform planks of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party including, affordable healthcare, affordable college, raising standards of public education and in his words, “sensible, stringent gun control.”
While Mfume prescribes several Democratic governance policies, he argues the Party’s 2020 general election strategy to defeat the 45th President of the United States, a man the late Cummings saw as a threat to the Republic, is dubious.
“Donald Trump is cunning, he is deliberate, he is decisive and he is not operating willy nilly like a lot of people believe, that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think he is as cunning as a fox. You don’t become the President of the United States by accident,” said Mfume of Trump whose impeachment in the House of Representatives seems imminent.
“The damage that has already been done is massive. Congress is spending so much time talking about why they don’t like Donald Trump instead of spending time to organize and to find a way to put together a 50 state, precinct to precinct (strategy),” he added. “Why the Democratic Party is taking its time in putting together a strategy we all know about…that concerns me.”
Even as Mfume launched his candidacy this week questions persisted about the political intentions of Cummings’ widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Many suspect she is considering making her bid to succeed her late husband.
“Maya and I have communicated. And I think I communicated more directly at the funeral because I spoke to her from that podium, I wanted to do that specifically,” said Mfume regarding his navigation of Rockeymoore Cummings future plans. “Maya knows that I feel strongly about this race. I’ve not tried to force her to say one way or another whether or not she’s going to run because I don’t have that right quite frankly. She’s a widow, her loss is deep,” Mfume added.
Still, the public servant who officially began his political career after winning a feverish race for Baltimore City Council in 1978, by just three votes seems determined to regain the seat he once held. In fact, Mfume said his political mentor University of Maryland Law Prof. Larry S. Gibson, perhaps the most successful political strategist in Baltimore over the last 50 years told him, “You have to do this.”
“Well…I was in the fight for many many years and I’ve been on the bench for the last 23, but I know the game. And I know what it takes to be successful in the game…and I know how to win,” said Mfume. However, the politician seeking a fourth decade of public service said he is not resting on his past laurels.
“I don’t think trying to do anything I may have done successfully when I was in office 23 years ago, that I can bring the same type of approach. The world is a different place, our communities are different,” he added.
“I believe if I don’t do this, I’m not who I say I am.”