Cummings’ predecessor, Kweisi Mfume, wins Democratic nod in Maryland

Mfume last served in the House in 1996

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume has won the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s 7th District, which has been vacant since Elijah E. Cummings died last fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume has won the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s 7th District, which has been vacant since Elijah E. Cummings died last fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 4, 2020 at 9:54pm

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who last served in the House in 1996, has won the Democratic nomination for the seat vacated by his successor, the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. Defeating 23 Democrats — including Cummings’ widow — he’s heavily favored to be the next member of Congress from the solidly Democratic Baltimore-area seat.

With nearly all the precincts reporting, Mfume had 43 percent of the vote. Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, was in second place with 17 percent, followed by state Sen. Jill Carter with 16 percent.

Republican Kimberly Klacik won her party’s nomination with 40 percent of the vote. The nominees will face off in an April 28 special general election in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 53 points in 2016. That is also the date of the state’s regularly scheduled primary, which means that Mfume will have to win the Democratic nomination again that day to appear on the November ballot.

First elected to the House in 1986, Mfume represented the 7th District until 1996, when he stepped down to lead the NAACP. He hasn’t served in Congress in over two decades, but voters in the district, which includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties, largely remembered him as their congressman.

Mfume has denied allegations of sexual harassment during his tenure at the NAACP, which The Baltimore Sun unearthed during the campaign, and those allegations didn’t seem to dampen his support among older African American women, a crucial voting bloc in the district. Half of the district’s voters live in the city.

Mfume had the support of two of Cummings’ sisters, who complained that Rockeymoore Cummings, who could have been the first woman to hold the seat, wasn’t “genuine.”

“She’s not Elijah, no way,” Diane Woodson, Cummings’ 63-year-old sister, told CQ Roll Call last month at a “Women for Mfume” event in Baltimore. “She could never fill his seat or the shoes that he walked in,” Cheretheria Blount, his 70-year-old sister, added.

National politics, including Monday’s presidential caucuses in Iowa and its delayed results, as well as an equally crowded upcoming Baltimore mayoral primary, overshadowed this congressional primary, which fell on the same day as President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

But Mfume didn’t hesitate to make Trump a part of his campaign. The president infamously insulted the district to get back at Cummings, who had sought to review the president’s personal finances and tax returns as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“We believe that if we put Humpty Dumpty back together again, we can have a district that is respected, that will say to Donald Trump, ‘Shut up! You don’t know who we are,’” Mfume said to a crowd of hundreds at last month’s Women for Mfume rally.

Mfume had spent only $57,000 as of the pre-special reporting period, which ended on Jan. 15. Much of the campaigning in this race played out in the last several weeks, with ground organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Mfume, who had the backing of the state AFL-CIO, ran on his experience. Women often said they didn’t know Rockeymoore Cummings, who commuted back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore since marrying Elijah Cummings in 2008. She didn’t become a Maryland voter until 2014.

Rockeymoore Cummings tried to run on her husband’s legacy — and the promise of continuing it. Videos on her social media platforms said, “Send Cummings to Congress” and “The legacy continues.”

She earned plenty of high-profile media attention. She announced her campaign on MSNBC, where she revealed she’d be undergoing a preventative double mastectomy. She also appeared on “The View” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Maryland has been without a woman in Congress since 2017 after Sen. Barbara Mikulski retired and Rep. Donna Edwards lost a bid to succeed her. A woman has never represented the 7th District. EMILY’s List backed Rockeymoore Cummings.

The NAACP executive committee took a secret vote in 2004 not to renew Mfume’s contract as president, according to the Sun’s review of former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond’s papers, now at the University of Virginia. The newspaper found allegations of sexual harassment, including a threat of a lawsuit against Mfume and the NAACP. Mfume has denied those allegations.

“It’s not an issue for me. And I don’t think it’s an issue for women,” Thelma Daley, the chairwoman of Women for Mfume and national director of Women in the NAACP, told CQ Roll Call last month.