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Kweisi Mfume calls chanting over Elijah Cummings a 'low point' in convention

Kweisi Mfume, the first black Democratic candidate to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland, ponders a question during an interview session Friday, March 25, 2005, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)
Kweisi Mfume, the first black Democratic candidate to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland, ponders a question during an interview session Friday, March 25, 2005, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner) (CHRIS GARDNER / AP)

PHILADELPHIA — Former congressman and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume said Tuesday he thought Bernie Sanders supporters made a significant mistake by chanting during Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' heartfelt address about his father.

Shortly after Cummings took the stage early Monday evening, Sanders delegates began yelling "No TPP," referencing the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations. The chants were heard not only in the Wells Fargo Center but also on television.

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"It was downright disrespectful," said Mfume, a delegate for Hillary Clinton. "I think it does not necessarily help the relations that Bernie's people may have with the larger African American community...that, for me, was a low point."

Progressives and unions hate the trade deal, even though it was negotiated and is supported by President Barack Obama. Sanders supporters had sought to include an express rejection of the agreement in the Democratic platform, and were ultimately rebuffed.

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Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, was the chairman of the drafting committee and so in that sense the chanting during his speech made sense.

But, perhaps anticipating that possiblity, Cummings delivered a very personal speech about his father. At times he wound up having to shout his words over the chants.

"My father, the late Robert Cummings, a man who left school after the fourth grade, was one of the smartest people I've ever known," Cummings said. "He'd say, 'Son, the test of a man is not how much he helps himself. The true test is whether he helps those less fortunate. You go to school to get blessed, so that you can bless.'

"And if my father — that brilliant man with a fourth-grade education but a mind full of wisdom and common sense — were standing here tonight, I know he would be proud of all of you," Cummings said.

Mfume, who is attending his 10th national convention here this year, said he didn't make much of some of the jeers heard on Monday night overall. He recalled the 1980 Democratic convention -- when vanquished Sen. Ted Kennedy gave President Jimmy Carter a halfhearted handshake and then appeared to turn his back on the incumbent -- as a year when there was palpable dissent.

"It was a very cold chill that emanated from out on the stage, and you could feel it out on the floor where the delegates were," Mfume said of that year. "We went 100 days after that and never really unified and then Ronald Reagan became the president of the United States for the next eight years."

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