BALTIMORE (CN) – Baltimore was still Kweisi Mfume’s after all these years as the former congressman and NAACP executive director won a special primary election that makes him a shoe-in to retake his former seat in Maryland’s 7th House district.
Mfume, 71, vanquished a huge field of 23 fellow Democrats and eight Republicans running to serve the remaining months of the late Elijah Cummings’ term representing a large part of Baltimore and smaller bits surrounding the city and Howard County.
There will be a special general election April 28 to choose the candidate who will assume Cummings’ seat until the term ends in January 2021.
It’s a safe Democratic district that Cummings, who died in October, routinely won with more than 80% of the vote.
Mfume, a former Baltimore City Council member, held the seat before Cummings did, leaving it in 1996 to helm the NAACP. His time there was celebrated as a financial renaissance for the organization, but his chaotic administration – quietly documented by Board Chairman Julian Bond and archived in a university library until the Baltimore Sun unearthed it last month – led to his ouster in 2004, which was falsely depicted as amicable.
Since then Mfume, currently chairman of the Morgan State University Board of Regents, has done little in public life, though he pitches his return to Congress as a duty.
“Having served in this position for nearly 10 years, I have a duty to raise my hand and offer myself in public service at this time,” he told the Sun in an answer to the paper’s candidate questionnaire. “I am the only candidate in this race who is proven, tested, and ready to go to work in Congress on day one – with seniority.”
Mfume pledges to continue Cummings’ progressive legacy in Congress.
As the only race on the ballot with an odd election day, turnout was low, with less than 15% of the district’s 422,000 or so registered voters showing up at the polls. Mfume took about half of the Democratic votes cast.
Mfume bested Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, 48, Cummings’ widow who married the late congressman in 2009 after a career spent on congressional staffs, the National Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She launched a short-lived campaign for governor in 2017, then became chairwoman of the state Democratic Party in 2018.
In third place was Jill Carter, a state senator and long-time champion of criminal justice reform and other progressive causes, who spent her political career as an outsider, fighting the party’s entrenched (and white) elite while building a solid base of vocal supporters in the city and surrounding counties. Her endorsement this week by the Baltimore Sun was a surprise, but not enough to boost her chances.
Most of the other candidates – ranging from state representatives and senators, to a political science professor and a handful of perennial candidates – faced uphill fights for both name recognition and credibility.
The Republican field was thin on substance and experience, with Reba Hawkins, a businesswoman and community activist, collecting the Sun’s endorsement but Kimberly Klacik, a 38-year-old political commentator and strategist, collecting the votes. Klacik, whose viral video echoed President Donald Trump’s infamous description of Cummings’ Baltimore district as “rat-infested,” pledged to do “literally the opposite” of Cummings if she wins the office.
“He was the most powerful African American on Capitol Hill, yet parts of his district resembles a third world country,” she told the Sun in answer to a political questionnaire. “It’s unacceptable & all of the constituents, those suffering from the uptick in violence in the county as well, deserve better.”
Klacik supports easier access to handgun-carry permits to fight crime in the city, which has suffered more than 300 murders in each of the past five years, and is against the Affordable Care Act. “Scrap it. More government equals more problems,” she told the Sun.