Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman released a “Letter to Elijah” Friday morning, outlining political goals he believes he shared with the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Sent to the Capital Gazette just before the funeral for the late congressman from Baltimore was about to begin, the letter asks the advice of Cummings on how to address several tough issues. Pittman listed hate bias incidents, gun violence, affordable housing, increased spending on education, transportation and the environment.
The executive joined two former presidents, congressional colleagues and thousands of residents of Baltimore to say goodbye at his longtime church Friday.
Commenting afterward, he said the letter focused on the most challenging issues. He credited his spokeswoman, Roz Hamlet, with the idea of forming his ideas in a letter.
“My intent was not to lay out a comprehensive agenda...” Pittman said. “It’s really the most challenging issues.”
"I mean, I do look up to Elijah Cummings and he has, at least in my view, a way of bringing people together and talking to people no matter what their beliefs are. He’s been the subject of a lot of hate and bias over the years. That’s what got me started but it got me into issues that are equally challenging.
He called the funeral, emotional and impressive.
In his letter, Pittman pointed to recent hate and bias incidents, and Anne Arundel County’s recent place atop a list of hate bias incidents reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies in the county reported the most hate or bias accounts of any jurisdiction in Maryland, with 78 incidents reported last year.
The county executive recently wrote a letter to all county employees saying he considered the increase in incidents a public safety threat and mentioned how public works employees had death with hate speech and behavior aimed at them by county residents.
He asked Cummings what could be done.
“Oh, and here’s one that you have a lot of experience with, Elijah, hate bias incidents. You survived it as an 11-year old kid when white folks threw rocks at you for trying to integrate a pool, and again when the President of the United States attacked you and the communities you represent. I suspect that there were other times as well.”
The first-term Democrat, who is coming up on the one-year-anniversary of his election, has made many of the topics he discussed in his letter part of his legislative and executive agenda. He pushed legislation changing county rules on affordable housing, set up a gun violence task for in the wake of the June 28 Capital Gazette mass shooting, drafted legislation giving the Human Relations Commission more power to investigate incidents of housing bias and put more money into schools and transportation.
The County Council is set to vote on a heavily amended version of legislation from Pittman that would tighten rules on forest clearing for development.
Pittman, who was elected in 2018, met Cummings in April during the West County Democratic Club’s annual Parren J. Mitchell dinner.
Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee, represented the district once occupied by Mitchell, the first African American elected to Congress from Maryland.
Pittman wrote about Cummings’ speech that night, and the impact it had on him.
“You made me understand that the politics of our time go beyond the disagreements between parties. I saw a man in physical pain who knew that his time on this earth was coming to an end, choosing to connect with whoever would listen, choosing to tell a story about humanity and the choices we face while we’re here,” he wrote.
And he listed the need for a progressive income tax, which would put higher rates on those with the highest income.
“And how do we give politicians the guts that their predecessors had during our country’s golden years, the years when we had very little national debt, major investments in infrastructure, and shrinking income inequality? How do we convince them that it’s ok to tax the highest income earners the way they were taxed before the great experiment in trickle-down economics and corporate welfare,” he wrote.