Maryland Del. Talmadge Branch touts behind-the-scenes legislative experience in run for Congress

Del. Talmadge Branch says his experience in getting state money for his district and passing legislation makes him the best candidate to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings in Congress. Branch spoke Thursday at the Howard County Branch of the NAACP forum for 7th Congressional District candidates at the First Baptist Church of Guilford.

First in a series of articles on candidates for the 7th Congressional District.

When it comes to selecting Baltimore’s next member of Congress, Talmadge Branch hopes voters look for experience.


Branch has spent more than two decades representing the city in the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, where he says he’s brought home millions for Baltimore programs and advanced the Democrats’ agenda as the party’s chief vote-counter.

“If they want a person that can get results — I’m not a whole lot of glamour, but I can certainly work to make sure we bring the bacon home," said Branch, 63, an East Baltimore Democrat who is among two dozen candidates in his party hoping to fill the remainder of the two-year term of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.


Branch is among four candidates engaged in this sprint of a campaign while serving in the General Assembly’s annual 90-day session. The special primary election for the 7th Congressional District seat is Feb. 4.

In his time in Annapolis, Branch has led the Legislative Black Caucus, served as vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and currently is the majority whip.

The whip is an important largely behind-the-scenes role that involves making sure Democrats have the votes to pass key bills and override gubernatorial vetoes. Branch coordinates more than a dozen deputy whips who work with him to persuade — or pressure, if needed — members to vote with party leaders.

In 13 years as whip, Branch said he’s never lost a vote. When Del. Adrienne A. Jones took over as House speaker, she kept Branch on as her leading head-counter.

“What I really like,” Branch said, “is when I pick up the paper and it says a particular bill passed. And they may write about the comments of those that spoke on the bill. And then myself, realizing that it was me behind the scenes that made sure we had the votes to make it happen.”

Beyond that, Branch said he knows how to bring money back to his district. His chief example: millions of dollars in extra funding for Baltimore’s Safe Streets violence prevention program.

“I’m not a whole lot of glamour, but I can certainly work to make sure we bring the bacon home.”

—  Del. Talmadge Branch, House of Delegates majority whip

Branch was moved to work more deeply on crime prevention after his 22-year-old grandson, Tyrone Ray, was fatally shot in 2017 outside a convenience store in Northeast Baltimore. (Two young men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.) Ray was the 239th homicide victim among 342 in Baltimore that year.

Branch argued successfully the next year for $3.6 million to eventually expand Safe Streets to at least 10 neighborhoods across the city.


“I feel very good about having put something like that in place,” Branch said.

Ray’s death was also a motivator for the young man’s mother — Branch’s daughter, Chanel Branch — who helped push for the funding. She was recently nominated to fill a House of Delegates vacancy by a city Democratic committee that she chairs. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is considering whether to appoint her to the office.

Talmadge Branch is so confident in his abilities as a legislator that he compared his skills to those of perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time. If the 7th Congressional District’s voters don’t choose him, he said, it would be like they “left the Michael Jordan of the campaign on the bench.”

Even as he promotes his experience, Branch tries to appeal to voters with some self-deprecating humor. Stepping to the microphone at a forum at a church in Columbia recently, he buttoned his jacket and introduced himself as a "short little fellow from East Baltimore.” And he joked that he’d bring a “young and fresh” experience to Congress, even though he’s “63 years young.”

Andy Pierre saw Branch’s legislative acumen when he worked in Annapolis as executive director of the Legislative Black Caucus.

“He’s been doing the real work for 20-some years now without jumping in front of the camera every time something happens,” Pierre said. “He’s not the one you’re going to see chasing the camera."


Pierre, who now works as a special assistant to the chairman of Baltimore’s Veterans Commission, said he believes Branch won’t make promises he can’t deliver on. “He ain’t going to sell you a dream, because he has to answer to you,” Pierre said.

Some aren’t moved by Branch’s position in Democratic leadership in Annapolis. The grassroots think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle gave Branch a D on its legislative report card in 2018, faulting him for being “obedient to the Democratic Party Leadership when he votes” and for supporting bills that set mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

Dayvon Love, the group’s director of public policy, said Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle encourages elected officials to push for racial justice when sponsoring bills and casting votes.

“We could find really nothing on the record — whether it was in committee hearings or on the [House] floor — of advocacy that was rooted in any kind of racial justice,” Love said.

Like the other elected officials seeking the seat, Branch faces the challenge of translating local support into a broad following across a district that includes areas of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

“He has name recognition. He’s been in the House a long time and he should be able to raise money,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “But is he well known in the other parts of the district among average voters?”


Branch could have a particular challenge because his base of power is on Baltimore’s East Side and the district encompasses more of the city’s West Side and out to the suburbs, Hartley said.

If voters send Branch to Capitol Hill, he said he’ll continue to deliver results for Baltimore. His priorities are supporting federal workers, improving access to health insurance, and funding programs such as crime prevention in Baltimore and flood prevention in Howard County. He also would work on issues such as reducing the impact of airplane noise on residents around BWI Marshall Airport.

Branch said he’d be motivated by the work of Cummings, but also of the late Parren J. Mitchell, who held the seat from 1971 until 1987.

“He was my inspiration,” Branch said of Mitchell, a legendary civil rights pioneer who was the first African American person elected to Congress from Maryland.

When Branch was a young man, just a few years out of college, he landed a job as a special assistant to Mitchell, trailing the congressman around Capitol Hill and to community events alike. He says he learned from Mitchell how to be a public servant: how to listen, secure money for a district and maintain credibility.

Branch says Mitchell urged him to seek public office. Though he failed the first time, he eventually landed a seat in the House of Delegates and has been re-elected by voters in East and Northeast Baltimore ever since.


Educator Brenda Savoy calls Branch the “real deal.” When she was a vice principal in the city, Savoy invited Branch to speak to students. He impressed upon them the importance of education and exercising the right to vote.

“If he gets the position, he will be a hands-on person,” Savoy said. “He’ll be someone you can call and talk to. He won’t be so removed up on the Hill that he doesn’t have time for people back in the district.”

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Coming Wednesday: Del. Jay Jalisi.

Talmadge Branch

Age: 63.

Home: East Baltimore.


Family: Four children.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University); associate’s degree, Essex Community College (now the Community College of Baltimore County).

Experience: Member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1995, currently majority whip; special assistant to U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell; business consultant.