Cummings, Elijah E. 1951–
Elijah E. Cummings 1951–
Congressman from Maryland
Elijah E. Cummings has been a member of the United States Congress since 1996 when he took over the Baltimore-area House seat vacated by Kweisi Mfume, who resigned from Congress to become president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Representing a heavily African American and mostly urban district that includes many economically distressed neighborhoods, Cummings has taken a special interest in urban problems and the concerns of the poor. “I will continue to speak up for those whose voices are rarely, if ever, heard, and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves,” Cummings said after his 1996 as quoted by Deborah Kalb in Congressional Quarterly.
Cummings was born in 1951 in Baltimore, one of seven children of a working class parents who had moved to Baltimore from rural South Carolina. His father, Robert, was a Davidson Chemical plant employee. Cummings spent his early years living in rented houses in the southern part of Baltimore. When he was 12, his family bought a house in the Edmondson Village section of West Baltimore. At Baltimore City College High School, Cummings was president of the senior class. After graduating from high school in 1969 he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., one the nation’s leading traditionally Black colleges. At Howard, Cummings served as sophomore class president, student government treasurer, and student government president. Leaving Howard in 1973 with a Phi Beta Kappa honor society key and a bachelor’s degree in political science, Cummings entered the University of Maryland Law School from which he received a law degree in 1976. He then began a private law practice in Baltimore. Cummings continued to practice law with the firm of Cummings and Dashiell until entering Congress in 1996.
Cummings entered the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983, representing a mostly African American district in the southern part of West Baltimore. As a member of the Maryland state legislature, Cummings quickly proved himself a rising star. After just one term in Annapolis, he was elected chairman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. Cummings spent much of his time seeking improvements in health care and educational opportunities for his urban constituents. He also worked with businesses to bolster economic development in his district,
Born on January 18,1951 in Baltimore, MD, the son of Robert (a chemical plant worker) and Ruth Cummings; married to Joyce Cummings (separated); twochildren. Education: Howard University, B.A., 1973; University of Maryland law School, J.D. 1976. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist.
Career: Practicing attorney in Baltimore, 1976–96; member of Maryland House of Delegates, 1983–96; Speaker Pro-Tern of Maryland House of Delegates, 1995–96; member of U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s seventh district, 1996-; columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American, 1996-.
Organizations: Member of the Maryland Bar Association, 1976-; Morgan State University Board of Regents; Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, board of directors; Baltimore Zoo, board of trustees; Dunbar-Hopkins Health Partnership, executive board.
Addresses: Home—Madison Park, West Baltimore, MD. Off/ce—District: 3000 Druid Park Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215. Washington: 1632 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
and played a fundamental role in banning liquor advertisements from inner-city billboards. During his years in the Annapolis legislature, Cummings honed his political skills and earned a reputation as a consensus builder. He served as vice chair of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee and vice chair of the Economic Matters Committee, and in 1995 became the first African American to be named Speaker Pro-Tern, the second highest position in the House of Delegates.
Kweisi Mfume’s announcement of his intention to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives in early 1996 to take over as head of the NAACP resulted in a record-breaking 32 candidates (twenty-seven Democrats, five Republicans) entering the race to fill the vacated seat from Maryland’s seventh Congressional district, a crescent-shaped area that runs from downtown Baltimore, through the western part of the city, and into suburban Baltimore County. The seventh district, which is about 70 percent African American, includes many poor West Baltimore communities, though it also encompasses Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Museum of Art, several gentrified urban neighborhoods, and the lower middle class suburbs of Randallstown and Catonsville. Mfume had held the seventh district seat since 1987. For 16 years prior to that the seventh district, then entirely within the city of Baltimore, was represented by Parren Mitchell who, in 1971, became Maryland’s first African American member of Congress.
Included among the 27 candidates in the special Democratic primary election held in March of 1996 were five members of the Maryland state legislature, five ministers, an engine mechanic, a psychiatrist, and several businessmen. Cummings’ notoriety as a state lawmaker made him a strong contender in the crowded field. He gained important endorsements from the Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council, state senate majority leader Clarence Blount, the Baltimore Afro-American and Baltimore Sun newspapers, and from community leaders in suburban areas. He was also able to raise more money than any other candidate, an estimated $450,000, and mounted a print and television advertising campaign that emphasized economic issues. Herbert C. Smith, a Western Maryland College political science professor who specializes in Baltimore politics, told Paul Valentine of the Washington Post that Cummings did “a good job of putting together coalitions…including both black and white political clubs” during his election bid.
Cummings won 37 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, running far ahead of second place finisher Frank M. Reid III, a prominent minister and the stepbrother of Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Reid garnered 24 percent of the vote. In the April 1996 special election Cummings easily beat Republican Kenneth Kondner, winning 81 percent of the vote to Kondner’s 19 percent. The April special election only decided who would fill out Mfume’s term, so Cummings faced Kondner again in the November 1996 regular general election. This time, Cummings defeated his GOP rival by an even wider margin and won his own two-year term in Congress. In 1998, Cummings was easily reelected to a second term. Maryland’s seventh district is heavily Democratic, and Cummings is likely to follow his predecessors Mfume and Mitchell in receiving no strong reelection opposition during his tenure in Congress.
As a new member of Congress, Cummings was struck by the highly partisan nature of debate. This contentious atmosphere was very different from that of the Maryland legislature, where legislators worked together without much regard to party affiliation. “I just did not expect the partisanship to the degree it is…And it gets kind of vicious, too…on both sides. It saddens me,” Cummings told Valentine in April of 1997. In his first speech on the House floor in April of 1996 Cummings called for greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. “Our world would be a much better world and a much better place if we would only concentrate on the things we have in common instead of concentrating on our differences. It is easy to find differences, very easy. We need to take more time to find common ground,” Cummings told his fellow lawmakers as quoted by Philip D. Duncan and Christine C. Lawrence in Politics in America 1998. Despite the ill-will between parties, Cummings has gained the respect of members on the other side of the aisle, including Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Gilchrest told Valentine that Cummings is “a gentleman and a professional.”
Education is a high priority on Cummings’ agenda and he has made an effort to visit every school in his district in order to gain information from the educational front lines. Cummings is a strong supporter of public education and opposes voucher programs that would help defray the cost of private school tuition. “Quality public education is necessary to improve our children’s lives and to ensure that their futures remain bright,” Cummings said in a statement included in his office website. Cummings believes it is very important that schools in minority communities be connected to the Internet. “We must bring the twenty-first century into every classroom in America. Technological literacy is essential to succeed in the new economy…African-Americans, historically concentrated in agriculture, personal service, and blue-collar occupations, are now disproportionately displaced in the emerging Information Age…Now is the time to commit to helping underserved minority schools. The longer we wait, the wider the gap between these kids and the kids who are technology-fluent expands,” Cummings said in speech to the House in February of 1997 as quoted in Politics in America 1998.
A resident of the Madison Park neighborhood of West Baltimore, Cummings has been robbed at gunpoint and his home and car have been burglarized. His personal experience has made Cummings especially aware of crime. He opposes the death penalty and believes that dealing with the social conditions that foster criminal behavior is the most effective way to prevent crime. As a member of the Maryland state legislature, Cummings helped establish a “Boot Camp” program to address the needs of juvenile offenders. To prevent domestic violence, which he also believes is primarily caused by adverse social conditions, Cummings joined Representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Constance Morella of Maryland in sponsoring the Violence Against Women Act of 1999. Cummings believes that his father set an example in regard to coping with the frustrations that lead to domestic violence. In a May 1999 column for the Baltimore A fro-American, Cummings recalled how his father would often sit quietly in the car for a hour or so before entering the house after a hard day at the chemical plant — “It worked. During my forty-eight years on this earth, I have never heard my father raise his voice to my mother. He understood what is required to be a gentle man.”
Drug abuse plagues many areas of the seventh district, and Cummings supports needle exchange programs that distribute clean needles to intravenous drug users in the hope of preventing the spread of HIV. He does not believe that such programs condone or increase illegal drug use. In 1997, Cummings introduced the HIV Prevention Outreach Act which called for an end to ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs. “I am fully aware that the idea of exchanging clean syringes for used needles make some of my colleagues in Washington uncomfortable [but] the bottom line is that giving clean needles to addicts will save lives. Not only the lives of the intravenous drug user, but also the men, women, and children who are involved in their lives,” Cummings said in an August 1997 press release.
In 1998, Cummings led members of the Congressional Black Caucus on a tour of two of Baltimore’s drug rehabilitation centers and an AIDS outpatient clinic. The Baltimore visit came soon after a Centers for Disease Control study showed that African Americans, who make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for more than 40 percent of all new HIV infections. “As a leader in the Black community, I am deeply concerned about this new information. This new data highlights an issue we must urgently address. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I am dedicated to supporting increased funding for AIDS education and research,” Cummings stated in a July 1998 press release.
Cummings co-sponsored the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act of 1999, which called for documentation of the extent to which police are influenced by race when conducting traffic stops. “Thousands of people of color are the victims of DWB-driving while Black…The practice of unjustly stopping, humiliating, searching, and arresting people of color on our highways has escalated,” Cummings was quoted in a press release as telling the House. In his column for the Baltimore Afro-American, Cummings wrote that “as a member of Congress, and as an African-American male, I cannot tolerate the practice of stopping and searching American citizens for no reason other than their race.”
The investigation into President Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky absorbed much of the attention of Congress in 1998. Cummings was the only member of the Maryland Congressional delegation to vote against release of the Starr Report which offered lurid details of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky. Cummings joined with many other House Democrats in maintaining the case against Clinton went beyond the Constitutional power of the national legislature. “The framers of the Constitution did not entrust this House with the power to impeach the president of the United States in order to establish this body as a court of personal morality…We should be leaving personal and moral sanctions to the courts, the branch of government where they properly belong. And we should be doing the job we were elected to do. The wisdom of history, not the passions of this moment, must guide our actions,” Cummings said in a speech on the House floor as quoted in the Washington Post.
Cummings is an active member of Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church. In his spare moments Cummings enjoys jogging, reading, and spending time with his two daughters. He keeps in touch with the concerns of the residents of his district by holding “Town Hall Meetings” where constituents can meet with him to discuss issues. Cummings has also organized five community input groups or “Round Tables,” which assist him in developing solutions to the problems facing the district. Cummings told Valentine that his mission in Congress is “to be the voice of the people who put their faith and trust in me.”
Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa. Almanac of American Politics 1998. Washington, DC: National Journal, 1997.
Duncan, Philip D. and Christine C. Lawrence. Politics in America 1998. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1997.
Baltimore Afro-American, May 1,1999; May 8,1999.
Congressional Quarterly, March 9, 1996, p. 647; April 20, 1996, p. 1070.
Ebony, January 1997, p. 65.
Washington Post, February 25,1996, p. B5; April 17, 1996, p. D5; April 24, 1997, Maryland Weekly sect., p 1, 3; September 12, 1998, p. A15; December 20, 1998, p. A42.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Cummings’ website (www.house.gov/cummings).
"Cummings, Elijah E. 1951–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cummings-elijah-e-1951
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