Less than a month ago, Rep. Elijah Cummings’ friend, staffer and wife each took the stage during his funeral at New Psalmist Baptist Church to eulogize the venerated congressman they loved and respected.
Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said his friend “defied the limits of others’ expectations.” Harry Spikes said his boss taught him a “true leader shares leadership.” And, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said her husband was both a public servant and “man of the people.”
Now, all three are running against each other for his open seat.
Rockeymoore Cummings, 48, a public policy consultant who resigned Monday night as chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, kicked off her campaign Tuesday, telling supporters crammed into her Madison Park rowhouse that she wanted to spark an “inclusion revolution” in the country.
“This race is going to be a sprint to the finish,” she said to applause. “This is going to get down and dirty, probably, but I want you to know I’m ready for it.”
Rockeymoore Cummings entered the race among the front-runners in an increasingly crowded field.
At his campaign announcement last week, Mfume said he talked with Rockeymoore Cummings before deciding to try to regain the seat he held before Cummings.
“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.”
But Rockeymoore Cummings said Tuesday the candidates had not discussed the campaign.
“Less than 36 hours after my husband passed, he and [political strategist] Larry Gibson asked for a meeting through my pastor,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “We scheduled a meeting. It didn’t happen. I did text him and I didn’t get a response.”
The Mfume campaign declined to comment on Rockeymoore Cummings’ statement. But Gibson said Mfume waited 10 days before scheduling the meeting to discuss whether she planned to run.
“I’m hurt to be falsely accused of such insensitive conduct," Gibson said.
A spokesman for Rockeymoore Cummings said she misspoke, and meant to say the call came less than 36 hours after her husband’s funeral.
As for Spikes, Rockeymoore Cummings said: “I told him I was running. But he did not tell me he was running.”
Spikes did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Other Democrats in the 7th District field include state Del. Talmadge Branch, who has announced a run. State Sen. Jill P. Carter is set to make a “special announcement” next week. Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she is considering running.
Ten Democrats and three Republicans have filed to run in the special primary. Five candidates have filed to run in the regular GOP primary, along with nine Democrats.
Rockeymoore Cummings said she isn’t bothered that so many people are running for the seat her husband held.
“This is democracy,” she said. “This is up to the people of the 7th District.”
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, the founder of the Washington consulting firm Global Policy Solutions LLC and a 2018 candidate for governor, said her husband told her months before he died he would like for her to succeed him.
Rockeymoore Cummings said she resigned Monday as chair of the state Democratic Party to avoid any appearance of favoritism.
State Sen. Cory V. McCray, the party’s vice chairman, rose to become interim chairman. He praised Rockeymoore Cummings’ tenure at the state party, which he said “culminated in several Democratic wins last week in competitive municipal races across Wicomico, Kent, and Harford counties.”
“I am confident that the party will demonstrate stability and continuity of service in the weeks ahead, as we build for the 2020 elections by fundraising and organizing around the state, and lift up the General Assembly’s legislative priorities as we prepare to enter the 2020 legislative session,” said McCray, of East Baltimore, in a statement.
Rockeymoore Cummings was elected as party chair after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s landslide victory in 2018, and pledged to fight harder and smarter to take back the state.
Answering questions Tuesday from reporters, Rockeymoore Cummings said she stood by comments she made in March accusing Hogan of being a “dog-whistle white nationalist” after he said he modeled himself after Republican President Ronald Reagan.
She referenced revelations in July that Reagan called African people “monkeys” in 1971 during a phone call with Republican President Richard Nixon. “To see those monkeys from those African countries, damn them. They are still uncomfortable wearing shoes," Reagan said on the recording.
“People weren’t familiar with Ronald Reagan’s history,” Rockeymoore Cummings said of backlash to her comments. “The fact he didn’t stand for the Civil Rights Act, the fact that he did have prejudice towards people of color, African-Americans in particular. I think Gov. Hogan needs to rescind those remarks.”
A spokeswoman for Hogan said Rockeymoore Cummings, not the governor, should take back her comments.
“Governor Hogan simply said he believes in the Reaganesque vision of a bigger tent and more inclusive politics," said Shareese Churchill, the governor’s spokeswoman, in an email. "Clearly, Dr. Cummings does not, and she continues to discredit herself by slandering the governor with the kind of hateful, divisive rhetoric that he has repeatedly spoken out against. She owes Governor Hogan and his family an apology.”
Candidates must file by Nov. 20 to run in a special Feb. 4 primary in the district, which includes parts of the city of Baltimore and areas of Baltimore and Howard counties. The special election will be held 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.
If elected, Rockeymoore Cummings said she will push to remove Trump from office.
“I would vote for impeachment,” she said. “What’s coming out of Washington is incredibly concerning and disturbing and it basically goes to the heart of the future of our democracy. Congressman Cummings was laser-focused on uncovering the corruption that’s happening in the highest office of the land. I will continue to support that agenda.”