Saying that his church is his first priority, the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant said Tuesday that he is bowing out of a campaign for Congress he launched just eight days ago.
Bryant, the 44-year-old pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, surprised many by announcing Sept. 14 that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the 7th Congressional District. That seat is currently held by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.
Cummings, an 11-term Democrat, has flirted with running for the U.S. Senate seat that will be left vacant by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. But in recent weeks Cummings has sent signals he would forgo that race — despite high favorable ratings in statewide polls — and seek re-election to the House instead.
Many observers of state politics were taken aback by Bryant's decision to announce his candidacy for the 7th District, which covers portions of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties. Days after launching his bid at an event in Bolton Hill, Bryant said he heard from parishioners who did not want him to run.
"After we announced our campaign last week it quickly became clear that I had not heard from all the voices I needed to listen to — particularly the members of my church," Bryant said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
"While many of my congregation have been encouraging and supportive, others have expressed an ardent desire that I concentrate full time on the spiritual leadership of Empowerment Temple," Bryant added. "Having reflected on these concerns and prayed, I believe the continued stewardship of my church is my highest calling."
Bryant appeared still to be running for Congress as late as Tuesday morning. His campaign tweeted a video in which Bryant said he was preparing to "make history in Baltimore." His campaign filed its initial paperwork on Thursday with the Federal Election Commission needed to begin raising money.
Hours later, Bryant met with parishioners at his church to tell them that his campaign was over.
Bryant, a dynamic preacher who leads a congregation of 12,000, would have presented Cummings with his most serious challenge in years. Cummings has won all his primary contests for re-election with more than 89 percent of the vote, but has not faced an organized opponent in years.
Both Bryant and Cummings saw their profiles rise amid the riots that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray this year. Bryant led marches against police brutality before Gray's death in April, and continued to organize protests after — including a rush-hour traffic-halting demonstration on a main roadway into Baltimore.
Cummings, meanwhile, also spent time on city streets during the riots and became a voice for the city in frequent appearances on national television.
Bryant, despite his strengths,also faced challenges. To begin with, Cummings would start a House race with more than $900,000 in the bank — meaning Bryant had significant ground to make up in fundraising.
Bryant, who once interned for Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume, failed to articulate at his announcement why he thought he could do a better job than Cummings. He also had declined to commit to the race. Asked repeatedly during his announcement whether he would run against Cummings if the incumbent decided against a Senate run, Bryant would say only that he would meet with the congressman.
Bryant is a father of five and the former youth leader of the NAACP. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and international studies from Morehouse College in Atlanta, a master of divinity degree from Duke University and a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation.
Bryant's decision to bow out could be read as another indication that Cummings will run for the House instead of the Senate. Cummings, whose campaign declined to comment Tuesday, has said he will make his announcement about his future in a matter of weeks.