Just weeks before a special election primary in the 7th Congressional District, voters heard from a dozen candidates vying to replace the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and offering blueprints on everything from reducing crime and controlling health care costs to addressing climate change.
The candidates, all Democrats, offered similar views Saturday on some priorities and issues. They also agreed on a desire to not only return a Democrat to the White House but to retain one in the 7th District.
But they differed during the forum in Randallstown on the background needed to get the job done in Congress — and on how much political experience mattered.
“We need a person that can pick the ball up now," said state House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, one of four state legislators in the race, who said he has the proven ability to bring money and jobs to his district. “We don’t have time for training on the job."
Kweisi Mfume said returning him to Congress, where he served until 1996 when he stepped down to head the NAACP, would come with seniority that is crucial to committee assignments and other leverage.
But others called for change.
“This is about making sure that we get down to business, making sure that we stop the rinse, repeat of the same platitudes, the same people doing the same stuff and not helping one iota the day-to-day lives of people of this district," said candidate Saafir Rabb, a community activist.
Dr. Mark Gosnell, an intensive care physician, said he got into the race a year ago because he felt concerned about how Congress and the district were being run. He said he grew frustrated about a health care system in which patients were admitted to the hospital because they had no place to go or were homeless and had no access to medication.
“This office was meant to bring ideas from people in the community that are actually working and doing the jobs and have experience to make legislation that’s really going to make changes right here, and the country is missing that,” he said.
More than a hundred people, voters and supporters of candidates, attended the event organized by the Baltimore County West Democratic Club. The club had invited all Democratic candidates to attend and planned to meet after the forum to make an endorsement.
Thirty two people are vying for the seat, including eight Republicans and 24 Democrats.
The primary is scheduled for Feb. 4 with a general election April 28 to fill the rest of Cummings’ term. Cummings died in October. The district includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.
State Democratic Sen. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore, a public defender, touted her fight against corruption in state and local government. Carter helped uncover a self-dealing scandal within University of Maryland Medical System, including the system’s purchase of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Healthy Holly books, after receiving a complaint from a minority contractor in her district.
“Right now in our Congressional delegation, even though we know that women are the backbone of the Democratic party, and particularly women of color, we have no women in our delegation to congress,” Carter said.
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Paulette Hammond, a Democratic Club member from Catonsville, said after the forum she was leaning toward supporting Carter.
“I’m looking for someone who will continue Elijah Cummings’ legacy," Hammond said. "He was a wonderful representative. He was very progressive, and I’m looking for a progressive Democrat. I’m looking for experience, somebody who knows how the system works.”
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Elijah Cummings’ widow and the former chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said she felt privileged to have “fought the good fight,” with her late husband on a variety of issues.
Candidate T. Dan Baker offered a snapshot of how his work in community revitalization, education and public health in the U.S. and overseas has prepared him for Congress. He recently managed an infectious disease program in Syria. He is proposing a 21st century civil rights act and term limits in Congress.
“People say, ‘Dan, what can you do for us?’," Baker said. “My question back is, ‘What does this community really want to get done, and what can we do together?' Today the U.S. Congress is in need of 21st Century leadership.”
Woodstock residents Margaret and Andrew Smith came to the event to help narrow down the choice among so many by Feb. 4th.
Margaret Smith said she wants to choose “somebody who can work well with others in Congress to actually get things done. We can agree with a lot of the things the candidates said on stage, but are they actually going to be productive in Congress.”