Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, is running for her husband’s seat, arguing Monday she is the best option to carry out his legacy and continue his vision.
“I am, of course, devastated at the loss of my spouse, but his spirit is with me,” Rockeymoore Cummings, 48, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “I’m going to run this race and I’m going to run it hard, as if he’s still right here by my side.”
Cummings, who had cancer, died Oct. 17 after serving more than two decades in Congress. He left a record of fighting for the needy and battling the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.
Rockeymoore Cummings, a public policy consultant who is founder of the Washington consulting firm Global Policy Solutions LLC and a former 2018 candidate for governor, said her husband told her months before he died he would like for her to succeed him.
“That was a discussion we had some months ago,” she said. “In the end, he was conflicted about whether he should resign or stay in office. We thought there might be a turnaround. It didn’t happen.”
Rockeymoore Cummings plans to kick off her campaign Tuesday at her home office in Baltimore’s Madison Park neighborhood. She said she will focus on issues important to the late congressman, such as battling the opioid crisis and “fighting for the soul of our democracy” against the Trump administration, but also on her areas of expertise, which include health and education policy.
In the interview, Rockeymoore Cummings also said she will have a preventative double mastectomy Friday. She said her mother died from breast cancer in 2015, and her sister was diagnosed last year with the disease. Rockeymoore Cummings said she and her late husband discussed her undergoing the procedure, and it was scheduled before he died.
She said she believed the surgery would take her off the campaign trail for up to four weeks.
“I’m going to take the time I need to heal and do what I can behind the scenes to make sure my campaign is strong,” she said. “It’s going to be a sprint election."
Candidates must file by Nov. 20 to run in a special Feb. 4 primary for Cummings’ 7th District seat, which includes parts of the city of Baltimore and areas of Baltimore and Howard counties. The special election will be April 28, the same day as a regular primary for all of Maryland’s U.S. House seats. Candidates who want to fill Cummings’ seat through the rest of his term, until January 2021, and win the seat for the next two years after that, must run in both the special and regular elections.
“I’m going to run this race and I’m going to run it hard, as if he’s still right here by my side.”— Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who will run for her late husband's seat
Rockeymoore Cummings talked in the interview about her husband’s disease, as well, saying he had a form of cancer called thymic carcinoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s a rare type of cancer that occurs when malignant cells form on the thymus, a gland in the upper chest that’s part of the lymph system. The thymus makes white blood cells that protect the body against infections.
Rockeymoore Cummings said she will resign as chairwoman of the state Democratic Party to avoid any appearance of favoritism. That means state Sen. Cory V. McCray will rise to interim chairman, she said. McCray, who represents East Baltimore, is currently vice chairman.
Rockeymoore Cummings was elected as party chairwoman after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s landslide victory in 2018, and pledged to fight harder and smarter to take back the state.
In her time leading the party, she’s had confrontations with centrist Democrats, including over plans she opposed to partner with Republicans to elect a new Maryland House of Delegates speaker, leading the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus to call her “bullying” and “threatening." She also accused Hogan of being a “dog-whistle white nationalist” after he said he modeled himself after Republican President Ronald Reagan ― prompting backlash.
“I am a fighter,” Rockeymoore Cummings said Monday. “I don’t shy away from the label. I will continue to press on and fight. I will fight the Trump administration, which is trying to undermine the social safety net.”
A conservative watchdog group filed a complaint in May with the IRS, alleging a nonprofit run by Rockeymoore Cummings violated the Internal Revenue Code. The National Legal and Policy Center accused Rockeymoore Cummings and her late husband of receiving a “illegal private benefit” through the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.
Rockeymoore Cummings has called the accusations “lies” and a “hit piece,” and told The Sun Monday they were without merit.
The IRS has declined to comment on the matter.
Other Democrats in the 7th District field include former congressman and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and state Del. Talmadge Branch. State Sen. Jill P. Carter said on a website with a “Jill Carter for Congress” address that she will make a “special announcement” next week. Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is among other Democrats who have said they are considering running.
Eight Democrats, including Cummings’ staffer Harry Spikes, and three Republicans have filed to run in the special primary. Five candidates have filed to run in the regular GOP primary, along with seven Democrats.
John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, said he sees Rockeymoore Cummings and Mfume as front-runners in the field.
“As party chair, she’s traveled the state and the region. That’s an advantage for her,” he said.
But Dedie added that Baltimore is “very provincial” and many locals may not view Rockeymoore Cummings as having deep enough roots in the city.
Rockeymoore Cummings, a self-described “military brat," was born in Texas and lived in towns across the U.S. and abroad while growing up. She said she has lived in Baltimore for 11½ years, since before she married Cummings in 2008.
“She’s going to have to get out into the community quickly to make people feel that she’s as much a part of the community as her late husband was,” Dedie said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, noted that all of Maryland’s congressional delegation is currently male, and said there could be an appetite for a woman to capture the open seat.
“Dr. Rockeymoore Cummings is an accomplished individual in her own right. She is not just the wife of a congressman,” Kromer said. “She has the appropriate background for somebody to run for Congress."
Carter, too, has sought to strike the note that the seat should be held by a female member of Congress.
“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,” she said last week in announcing her exploratory committee.
Rockeymoore Cummings entered a crowded primary field for governor October 2017, but withdrew in January 2018, citing “personal considerations.” The same day, Cummings announced he’d been hospitalized for a week with a knee infection.
Kromer said Rockeymoore Cummings impressed her during her short-lived run for governor.
“You could tell this is a woman who is ready for prime time,” she said.