Maryland’s seventh congressional district is one that has only had four representatives since it was reinstated after the 1950 United States Census – and three out of the four representatives were African American. Having previously been represented by thirteen white men since its inception in 1793, the district that now covers half of Baltimore City, a good majority of the African American sections of Baltimore County and almost all of Howard County, wasn’t drawn to include a majority of African American residents until 1973 – two years after its first black congressman was elected.
His name was Parren J. Mitchell, a member of the Mitchell political dynasty who after losing to the incumbent congressman Samuel Friedel in 1968, eked out a 38-vote victory over him two years later, making him the first African American congressman to represent Maryland. Mitchell was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, immediately becoming a vocal member of the caucus with one of his first actions with the group, boycotting President Richard M. Nixon’s State of the Union address in 1971 after Nixon had refused to meet the group – which eventually happened after Nixon decided to meet with the caucus weeks later.
After a sixteen-year career filled with endless fights for affirmative action, which included his defining moment when as chairman of the Small Business Committee, he attached an amendment onto a $4 billion public works bill that compelled state and local governments, looking to get federal grants, to set aside 10% of those funds for minority-owned firms as contractors and sub-contractors. So naturally when this freedom fighter decided to call it quits, he was searching for someone who could continue that fight for freedom, justice and equality.
That person came in the form of a radio disc jockey and civil rights activist by the name of Kweisi Mfume, a Morgan State grad who went on to earn his Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins University while serving as one of the most remarkable and memorable African American political leaders to ever serve in Congress. In 1978, he was elected to the Baltimore City Council by defeating his opponent by a whopping three votes, which was just the beginning of his journey in politics and civil rights.
Taking up the mantle set forth by his predecessor Congressman Mitchell, Mfume was elected to replace Mitchell in 1986 as a strong progressive ideological democrat who had a knack for being able to have a practical sense of compromise that worked well when trying to iron out deals with the Republican members of Congress. Having a primary goal of seeking more federal assistance to America’s poorest communities, Mfume was chosen by his colleagues to serve as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus – a body co-founded by his predecessor.
He was seen as a national leader on issues concerning the human and civil rights of all Americans, especially those of color, which caused him to make a tough decision in 1996, which led to him leaving his coveted congressional seat in order to serve the citizens of this country by becoming the President and CEO of the nation’s largest and most progressive civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
It was this decision that led to the special election victory of Elijah Cummings, who would go on to carry the Mitchell and Mfume mantle of excellence over the past almost quarter century. And it is the very reason why having Mfume resume the work he once led so admirably twenty-five years earlier, may make the most sense for residents of the 7th congressional district, who had gotten use to their congressman taking the fight for average, every day, working-class citizens to the doorstep of the President of the United States. Congressman Mfume has shown his willingness to take on the tough issues while being able to work with both sides of the aisle if need be, and he still has the relationships and congressional experience to be able to hit the ground running if elected to the seat in early 2020.
But a more strategic reasoning for his election may be his seniority that would carry over if elected to replace Congressman Cummings. In Congress, seniority means more than any legislative body in the country, due to the committee and leadership structure that governs their everyday actions. And if someone other than Mr. Mfume gets elected, it would take them until 2030 to be able to earn the level of seniority that Congressman Cummings had before his untimely death just one day ago. However, since former members of congress carry over their years of service, if Mr. Mfume is elected in the upcoming special election to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Cummings’ death, he would inherit the decade of service he had from the time he previously served, immediately becoming a senior legislator given his time and experience.
And for those not familiar with national politics or the inner-workings of Congress, this is a very big deal when discussing the amount of resources and leadership positions that is given to members, especially given that the House of Representatives has 435-members, meaning it would take a new congressman over a decade to assume leadership roles and responsibilities that could greatly benefit his or her district – something Mfume would not have to worry about. Not to mention, someone unfamiliar with Congress would spend the first year or two trying to find the bathrooms and develop the relationships necessary to get things done, while Mr. Mfume can walk-in on Day One and get things done for the constituents of his district, as well as the citizens of this great country.
Now this argument isn’t to negate the good work other candidates who decide to enter the race may have done, but anyone looking to fill the Cummings vacancy will have roughly 75-days to run a campaign and get familiar with the role of congress rep, and in less than five months they will be on the floor of Congress trying to make a difference at a time that we are in a crisis – both nationally and locally – here in the City of Baltimore. On the other hand, Mfume is a name known by voters all across this nation, especially in the 7th congressional district, who could begin immediately helping to serve the citizens of a district who won’t have a representative for the next six months. But based on Mr. Mfume’s prior service and skillset, his candidacy would allow for him to know how to service the constituents looking for immediate answers while simultaneously running a congressional campaign.
It still remains to be seen if Mr. Mfume would even consider getting back into the political arena, given that he’s been out of the limelight for almost twenty-years, even though he has been directly involved in helping to craft national policy and promote the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama over the past decade or more. So it’s not like he’s some out of touch old man sitting in a rocking chair on a farm herding cattle.
But taking on this level of responsibility in such a short period of time is a lot for anyone to ask. However, I personally know the level of patriotism that lies in the heart of this man, and know that if he decided to get into the race, it would only be for reasons of true public service, wanting to help carry on the legacy that Congressmen Mitchell, Cummings and himself helped shape over the past 50-years. Anyone else wanting to get in the race clearly sees this special election as a possible political come-up, something that can help elevate their political career; while Mr. Mfume has been there, done that; and would probably only serve two or three terms (4-6 years) while mentoring the next generation of leader to come behind him – as Parren did for him and he did for Elijah.