Down to the wire in the 7th Cummings' tenacity: He knows when to compromise and when to speak out.

Campaign 1996

March 04, 1996

ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS brings with him a tenacity gained in the Maryland House of Delegates that places him ahead of the Democratic field in the race to succeed Kweisi Mfume in Congress. A shrewd negotiator, someone able to compromise, is needed to make sure the 7th District isn't shortchanged. But in a deficit-reduction environment in which help for America's big cities won't come easily, the 7th's next representative must also be outspoken, willing to battle for constituents even when it appears the odds can't be overcome.

Again and again during Mr. Cummings' legislative career, he has spoken up for what he thought was right, even if circumstances meant he might not win. In 1994, he unsuccessfully supported a bill that would ban liquor licenses from clubs that discriminate. But he won many admirers with his heartfelt oratory. Mr. Cummings related the story of his grandmother, who told him that generations of his family had waited for a time when racial discrimination would end. "Don't you wait," she advised him.

He lost the battle, but that same year an impassioned appeal by Mr. Cummings helped spur passage of legislation allowing Baltimore to begin a needle exchange program to combat AIDS. Mr. Cummings said drug abusers are not the only ones affected when HIV is transmitted by needles. He described for his colleagues the cries of AIDS babies he had heard at Mercy Medical Center. "They scream like no baby you ever heard scream," he said.

Though unwilling to yield on issues he strongly believes in -- such as tougher laws on gun ownership -- Mr. Cummings is widely viewed as a bridge-builder. His ability to bring people together has been evident in his role as speaker pro tem of the House. He has a knack for getting people to listen to him, then to hear each other. That talent will be needed when Congress resumes the debate over reforms in welfare, Medicare and Medicaid that will help balance the federal budget.

He says people have told him they support his candidacy because he has "always been there" for them. "People want someone they can touch, that they can sit down and talk to," he noted. Elijah Cummings has remained focused on helping people. Such dedication to service is what the 7th District must have.

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