Cummings remembered in Maryland, on Capitol Hill

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in his office on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has 10 days to schedule a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime Democratic lawmaker who served as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee. Cummings died Thursday at age 68.

In Washington and across Maryland, there was mourning and an outpouring of praise Thursday for Cummings, a fierce advocate for Baltimore and an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.

“He had a singular voice, and I hope it will be ringing in our ears for as long as we live,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. He added, “I know Elijah would be the first one to tell us to get back to work and to keep fighting.”

Maryland’s deep-blue 7th Congressional District, which Cummings had represented since 1996, includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties. According to state law, the earliest that a primary election could legally be held is 65 days after Hogan’s proclamation. A general election must be held at least 65 days after the primary.

Whoever fills the seat would have to decide whether to run for a full two-year term in 2020, which would mean competing in the April 28 primary and the November general election.

“You’re going to have a person that will fill the seat, and then another primary election,” said Jared DeMarinis, director of the state election board’s division of candidacy and campaign finance. “So people will be running for both.”

Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said there were no details yet on when the governor, a Republican, would announce the special election.

Among the Democratic names being floated to succeed Cummings were that of his wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who chairs the state Democratic Party and briefly ran for governor in 2018; Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby; Mosby’s husband, state Del. Nick Mosby; Del. Talmadge Branch; state Sens. Jill Carter, Antonio Hayes and Cory McCray; former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; and Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president who was the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Rockeymoore Cummings’ name recognition, and the reverence people have for her late husband, would give her an automatic jump on the competition, a Hill aide said. There’s a thirst for a woman to join Maryland’s congressional delegation, which has been all-male since the 2016 departures of Barbara Mikulski and Donna Edwards.

However, Cummings faced few challengers for decades, leaving his widow without a robust fundraising network that could be reactivated to support her own bid.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Arinze Ifekauche declined to comment on potential successors, as did several of those mentioned as contenders. They said the day should be about mourning Cummings.

“For me and Marilyn both, that is the furthest thing from our minds right now,” Nick Mosby said about the special election. “I am completely devastated.”

Marilyn Mosby said Cummings helped launch her political career and was the first person she called after deciding to charge the six police officers involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

Cummings spoke at Gray’s funeral, and he helped calm the unrest that followed it.

The congressman was “a voice for the voiceless,” Marilyn Mosby said, “and a mentor to a whole generation of leaders.”

Rockeymoore Cummings said in a statement that her husband “worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity.”

Branch recalled spending 40 minutes on the phone with Cummings after Branch’s grandson was killed in a shooting in 2017. “I thought it was going to be a two-minute call,” he said.

Carter, a former state delegate who said Cummings pushed her to run for state senate, described him as “a special kind of elected official in that you could feel his heart and his passion.”

“I think that at this time we need to focus on our grief and offering condolences and support to Maya and their family,” she said.

State Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore City, said she would like to see Rockeymoore Cummings fill the seat. “I’m interested in making sure there’s a strong voice from Baltimore,” she said. “It would be great to have a woman join our delegation, and especially a woman of color.”

Hogan ordered flags flown at half-staff Thursday in honor of Cummings, whom he described as “a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations and Maryland’s branch of the NAACP asked the governor to declare Oct. 17 an annual “Statewide Day of Public Service” in memory of Cummings.

In Congress, members of Maryland’s delegation huddled around Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, on the floor as he spoke about Cummings’ life and the example he set in Congress. “We’re better than that,” Hoyer said, remember Cummings’ frequent refrain.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Baltimore native, said Cummings always calmed the waters, no matter how rough and tumble the discourse. He had participated in the caucus conference call remotely on Friday, while recovering from a recent medical procedure. Pelosi said she had thought Cummings would return to Capitol Hill in a few weeks.

“He’s now with the angels, out of pain,” she added, through tears.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke of Cummings’s power and influence – but also the kindness he showed members of both parties. “If you’re a freshman, I hope you took a few minutes with him,” McCarthy said. “I feel I’m better for having known him.”

The front-row seat in the House chamber that Cummings usually occupied was covered in white hydrangeas and white roses on Thursday.

At the end of the floor session, lawmakers rose for a moment of silence, then adjourned in their colleague’s memory.



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