In their only meeting of the general election campaign, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Republican challenger Kenneth Kondner agreed last night that education, welfare and crime are key problems in the mostly urban 7th Congressional District but offered different approaches to solve them.
The debate -- televised on Maryland Public Television -- was as low-key as the campaign has been in a district where more than 83 percent of registered voters are Democrats.
Cummings, 45, defeated Kondner, 54, in April with 81 percent of the vote in the special election to fill the vacancy created when Kweisi Mfume left Congress to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Next month's election is for zTC a full two-year term.
In his opening statement, Kondner of Woodlawn said, "I am not a politician and, as I've said before, I am not even a lawyer. I'm a concerned citizen who has lived my entire life in the 7th Congressional District. I am a dental technician, and I run for office because I believe in competition and challenging the system."
Cummings said that in the few months he has been in office, he has made strides in improving life in the district, which includes much of Baltimore and a portion of Baltimore County from Catonsville north to Randallstown.
"Over the past few months, I have been about the business of trying to empower people, making them realize that power is within them, be it power for education, health care, job security, crime," Cummings said.
If elected, Kondner said that his priorities would be continuing the Republican congressional agenda of welfare reform, term limits and a balanced budget.
Cummings said his priority is jobs.
"Mr. Kondner was just talking about welfare reform, and I understand the concerns of the country," he said. "But the fact is if you do not have jobs, welfare reform simply does not work."
Jobs are important, Kondner said, but "we must remember that the federal government doesn't create jobs."
"I never said that the federal government creates jobs," Cummings retorted. "I'm trying to make sure private industry weighs into this whole process. All I'm saying is that, yes, government must do certain things to spur and encourage the development of private-sector jobs."
Kondner argued that jobs are leaving the city because of crime and the poor educational system.
"Private industry is the answer," he said. "Now private industry is not going to come into Baltimore City, or even into Baltimore County, if you have a high crime rate and you do nothing about it."
The candidates agreed that drugs are a serious problem that contribute to the high crime rate in the district. Kondner called for tougher penalties for those convicted of drug charges.
Cummings said that Republicans tend to concentrate on interdiction of drugs and penalizing drug abusers but seem to be less concerned about drug treatment.
"But if we don't provide treatment, what you're basically saying is that you are writing off a whole generation of people who are already addicted," Cummings said.
Near the end of the debate, Kondner attacked Cummings' fund raising.
"We have the best government that money can buy. Mr. Cummings over here has raised $500,000," he said. "Mr. Cummings has said he's the leading voice for campaign reform in Maryland and yet he accepts PAC money."
Cummings did not respond.
Pub Date: 10/24/96