Mfume, a Democrat who represented the Baltimore-area congressional seat before Cummings from 1987 to 1996, is the second candidate to enter the Democratic primary. Talmadge Branch, the House of Delegates Majority Whip, said he would run on Thursday, according to the Baltimore Sun. Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, has also said she is also considering joining the race.
“I honestly believe that I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all [Cummings] and others fought for is not lost, tossed to the side and forgotten,” Mfume said to supporters at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore during the official kick-off of his campaign Monday, citing his previous experience in the seat and time as NAACP president as qualifications. “If I were not trusted, prepared and ready to go to work on day one I would not be here.”
Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) speaks during funeral services for late U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., October 25, 2019. Mfume announced Monday he would seek Cummings’ seat in a special election.
Mfume, who unsuccessfully sought a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland in 2006, talked about his upbringing during the civil rights era and his familiarity with segregation.
“I never had the experience of knowing what a white classmate was like until college,” he said, explaining how those experiences shaped his views of “fair play.”
“Far too many Americans, because of their race, their ethnicity, or their surname, find themselves standing before the gate of the American mainstream, recognizing that gate has not fully opened to them,” he continued. “They are black, they are white, they are Latino, they are poor, they are affluent, and many others are trying to find a way to gain citizenship, to gain hope and to give back to this country.”
In addition to his experience in the NAACP and in Congress — where he held several committee positions in addition to serving as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus — Mfume served on the post-9/11 Continuity of Government Commission and a host of other boards and advisory councils.
Mfume is not the only highly-qualified Democrat in the mix for the 7th Congressional District seat. Branch has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1995 and has been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He was also a special assistant to former 7th District Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, D-Md., from 1984 to 1987.
“As House majority whip, I have the ability to bring people together,” Branch told The Sun. “That makes me feel I am very qualified to do this. I know how to deliver and make sure funds go back to the community.”
Rockeymoore-Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, is the founder, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a consulting firm that advocates for clients including AARP and National Council of La Raza. She’s also previously worked with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and was the Chief of Staff to former Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.
There are several other Democrats who are rumored to be thinking about entering what may be a crowded primary.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced last month that candidates would have until Nov. 20 to file with the State Board of Elections for a Feb. 4 primary. The winner of the Democratic primary is favored to win the April 28 special election — which coincides with Maryland’s 2020 primary date — as the 7th District is deeply Democratic.
“It is imperative for the 7th Congressional District to have a strong voice in the House of Representatives, and today we are ensuring the process to fill this historic Maryland seat moves forward in a fair and timely manner,” he said.
Cummings, a civil rights icon who enjoyed deep respect from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, died on Oct. 17. Tributes to Cummings poured in from lawmakers and others in politics in both major parties.
“I was shocked and saddened to learn the news this morning of my dear friend’s passing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a fellow Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “Elijah Cummings was a man of principle, patriotism, and conviction, whose loss will be deeply felt throughout the State of Maryland and our country.”
At the White House, the flag was lowered to half-staff.
“My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings,” Trump tweeted. “I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.