Cummings is coasting as Kondner struggles Democrat almost sure to win tomorrow's 7th District election

April 15, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

While Del. Elijah E. Cummings seemed to coast toward tomorrow's special election for the 7th District congressional seat formerly held by Kweisi Mfume, Republican Kenneth Kondner was having a bad candidate week.

The weather for most of last week had not cooperated with Mr. Kondner's street-corner sign-waving campaign -- the only kind he can afford. He was the victim of a drive-by insult, when a guy threw a nickel at him and told him to "get a job." And finally his 7-year-old Chevy pickup had back-to-back flat tires -- just before the starter went up.

"I think it's a message," said a dispirited Mr. Kondner as he attempted to rally for a fourth attempt at winning a congressional seat in a district that's more than 80 percent Democratic.

"This could cost me the election," he finally joked, turning gallows humor on his own long-shot campaign.

Mr. Kondner is the underdog in the race against Mr. Cummings, the well-financed, well-organized Democrat who is expected to win easily in the special election to complete the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term.

But Mr. Kondner and other Republican die-hards hope the GOP nominee will win this time, banking on the low voter turnout predicted by election officials and others.

GOP faithful believe that the Democratic voters in Baltimore and Baltimore County could take the election of Mr. Cummings for granted and not show up at the polls.

Even he is not optimistic about the outcome.

"As usual, with Maryland being a one-party state, particularly in the 7th District, the election is the primary election," Mr. Kondner said.

This year, the primary was a merged election that combined the regularly scheduled state primary election with the special election to fill the 7th District vacancy brought on when Mr. Mfume left to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Cummings emerged the victor in the 27-candidate Democratic field, and Mr. Kondner won the GOP nomination over four others in the first contested Republican primary in the 7th District in a decade.

The two will face each other twice this year -- once Tuesday and again Nov. 5, in the general election for the full two-year term that begins in January.

The outcome, however, probably will be the same.

"It takes a long time to make a difference in Baltimore City, when for years, the Maryland Republican Party had, I'm sorry to say, ignored elections in the city, thinking we've never had the opportunity to win," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, the state GOP chairwoman.

Nevertheless, the state party has asked each of its county chiefs to get volunteers to call Republicans to get out the vote and hand out Kondner literature.

"All of this is grass roots," Mr. Kondner said. "We have nowhere near the money Elijah Cummings has."

In fact, Mr. Kondner has raised and spent less than $5,000.

On the other hand, since entering the race in December, Mr. Cummings raised $349,011 as of March 31, the most recent Federal Election Commission filing deadline, reports show. Nearly a third of that was from political action committees. And he still has $137,059 in cash.

That is one of the key points Mr. Kondner has raised about his opponent, whom he describes as "a career politician" with "big money backing him."

Mr. Kondner continues his anti-career-politician pitch in trying to persuade Democratic voters to come over to the GOP.

"I've heard the Republican Party roasted heard that the Republicans were at fault" for the plight of the city, he said. "But, this district has been controlled by the Democratic Party for [nearly] 50 years, and I think the Democratic Party has taken the district for granted.

"I ask people, 'Do you want a change or do you want the same philosophy with another career politician? Let's see if the Republican Party can do something for the people. Let's give the Republicans a chance; let's see what they can do,' " he said.

But Mr. Cummings took issue with Mr. Kondner's invitation to vote Republican.

"He says he does not believe that people are hurting as a result of these Republican budget cuts," he said. "But if he fails to see the pain, I find it difficult for him to be sensitive to those who are still trying to rise up from difficult positions.

"I do believe in the empowerment of people, and I believe strongly that government cannot do it all," Mr. Cummings said. "There must be a partnership between government, business and community, and I think Mr. Kondner is more anxious to leave government out of that partnership."

Pub Date: 4/15/96

Elijah Cummings

Party affiliation: Democrat.

Age: 45.

Occupation: Lawyer in private practice.

Home: Druid Heights, West Baltimore.

Experience: Speaker pro tem, Maryland House of Delegates. Four-term lawmaker from 44th Legislative District.

On the issues:

1. Term limits: Opposes. "I simply believe that voters should have the right to determine how long any elected official can stay in office. It's really up to the voters."

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