Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume announces he is running for his former seat, the 7th Congressional District, in the special election to replace Elijah Cummings.
Flanked by dozens of supporters at Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum, former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume announced Monday that he is running for his former 7th District seat in Congress to replace the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Pitching himself as an experienced choice, Mfume said he was ready to jump in immediately to resume Cummings’ work advocating for the city of Baltimore and students across the district and standing up to Republican President Donald Trump’s agenda.
“If I were not trusted, prepared and ready to go to work on day one, I would not be here," Mfume, a Democrat, said to applause.
His entrance into the race sets up a potential showdown between Mfume, one of the late congressman’s close friends, and Cummings’ widow, Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is considering a run.
State Del. Talmadge Branch announced last week that he is running, and state Sen. Jill P. Carter has formed an exploratory committee. Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is also considering a run. All are Democrats.
At a news conference after the announcement, Mfume said he talked with Rockeymoore Cummings before running.
“I’m really not trying to cram her or jam her in any way,” he said. “She needs time to deal with her soul and her loss. ... I know this has been tough for all of us.”
Rockeymoore Cummings did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
“If I were not trusted, prepared and ready to go to work on day one, I would not be here."
Kweisi Mfume, former congressman and candidate for the 7th congressional district
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Among the best known of the candidates and potential candidates, Mfume, 71, served as a Democrat in Congress from 1987 to 1996 and was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1993 to 1995. He was credited with helping to save programs that aided black businesses and supporting Democratic President Bill Clinton’s agenda.
He left Capitol Hill to become president of the NAACP from 1996 through 2004 and helped overcome years of deficits there and rebuild the organization’s membership numbers.
But Mfume’s leadership at the NAACP was also the subject of two internal investigations that described allegations of nepotism and sexual harassment at the organization’s Baltimore headquarters.
Among other allegations, Michele Speaks, a former manager whose complaint to the NAACP board launched one investigation, alleged that after rebuffing an advance by Mfume, she was passed over for raises and a promotion. The NAACP paid her about $100,000 from its treasury to avoid a lawsuit or other legal action by Speaks, according to an anonymous source who described the confidential agreement’s terms to The Sun in May 2005.
"The district would greatly benefit from his experience and his congressional seniority.”
Larry Gibson, Mfume supporter and University of Maryland law professor
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After his announcement Monday, Mfume fielded questions from reporters in which he addressed the allegations, which he noted are more than a decade old. His staff also passed out a copy of a National Organization for Women endorsement of Mfume from 2005.
As he has in the past, Mfume acknowledged an affair with a subordinate while leading the NAACP.
“As a single man, I had a dating relationship with a single woman for six or seven months. It was clearly a bonehead thing to do,” Mfume said. “The National Organization for Women said, ‘We did our review and he’s the same person he’s always been.’”
Mfume said he knows of no other payments to women during his tenure.
“There are absolutely none that I’m aware of,” Mfume said. He said he hoped to stop any whisper campaigns against him. “Accusation, innuendo and rumor are ways to achieve things that people can’t achieve otherwise.”
At the announcement, Mfume was introduced by University of Maryland law professor Larry Gibson, a longtime political guru who was a mentor to Cummings and Mfume. Gibson said Mfume showed leadership by leaving Congress to rescue the NAACP when it was beset by scandal and financial hardship.
“He saved the national NAACP," Gibson said. “Kweisi decided to leave his safe seat in Congress and try to save that venerable organization."
Gibson said he urged his friend to run again.
“It’s time for not only a woman, but a person with an actual track record of advocacy on the issues of justice and equality.”
State Sen. Jill P. Carter, who has formed an exploratory committee
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“I have asked, I have urged, I have begged Kweisi Mfume to step forward,” Gibson said. “We need Congressman Kweisi Mfume in Washington. The nation needs his wisdom. The district would greatly benefit from his experience and his congressional seniority.”
Born in 1948 as Frizzell Gray, he changed his name in 1972 to Kweisi Mfume, which means “conquering son of kings." He holds degrees from Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins University.
In his autobiography, “No Free Ride: From the Mean Streets to the Mainstream,” Mfume tells how he rose from a black enclave in Baltimore County to win election to the Baltimore City Council and then the U.S. House of Representatives before taking the helm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Mfume is currently the chairman of the board of regents at Morgan State and vice chairman of the board of Research America, which advocates for funding for medical and health research.
Candidates must act quickly to enter the race to replace Cummings, a Democrat who died Oct. 17. There’s a deadline of Nov. 20 to file to run in a special primary Feb. 4 in the district, which includes parts of the city of Baltimore and the counties of Baltimore and Howard. After the special primary, a special general election will be held April 28, with early voting beginning April 16. The winner of that election will fill the remainder of Cummings’ term, which runs into January 2021.
April 28 is also the day of Maryland’s regularly scheduled primary for congressional seats. So, anyone who wants to keep the seat beyond January 2021 also must run in that primary and advance to the regular general election in November 2020.
Rawlings-Blake posted on social media over the weekend a photo of her praying a local church while deciding what to do.
Carter on Monday released three dates when she would hold fundraisers over the next few weeks.
“Young progressives are very energized about the idea of my campaign and that energy is propelling me forward,” Carter said. “It’s time for not only a woman, but a person with an actual track record of advocacy on the issues of justice and equality that most candidates only talk about.”
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A woman has never held the seat, and there are no women in the state’s congressional delegation.
Other elected officials who have expressed interest in running in the Democratic primary include: state delegates Terri L. Hill, who represents areas of both Baltimore and Howard counties, Keith Haynes of Baltimore, Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard, Charles Sydnor and Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County, and state Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore.
In addition, eight candidates have filed for the special primary — three Republicans and five Democrats. The Democratic candidates who filed most recently were T. Dan Baker of Howard County and Anthony Carter Sr. and Charles U. Smith of Baltimore. The GOP candidates include Liz Matory, who sought the 2nd congressional district seat held by U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in 2018. Nine candidates have also filed to run in the regular primary, including Baker, Matory and Smith.
Among those attending Mfume’s announcement was former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who is considering running again for mayor in 2020.
The Democrat said she supports Mfume because of his track record and experience.
“Right now, looking at what’s happening at the federal level with Trump and the chaos, he doesn’t have a learning curve,” Dixon said. “He can get his tenure back. He can bring back things to the 7th District. No other candidate has that ability to get in there and hit the ground running on day one.”