Cummings coasts to win in 7th race Record-low turnout gives Mfume seat to Democratic legislator

Landslide defeats Kondner

Congressional victor laments no-shows despite results

April 17, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Democrat Elijah E. Cummings, a four-term legislator from West Baltimore, coasted to victory last night in the special election to replace Kweisi Mfume as Maryland's 7th District representative in Congress.

Mr. Cummings crushed Kenneth Kondner, a Republican from Woodlawn, in the race to complete the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term, after his exit from Congress in February to head the NAACP.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Cummings, 45, the Maryland House speaker pro tem, captured 81 percent of the vote.

Mr. Kondner had hoped that the record-low voter turnout would benefit him by catching Democrats off guard in the district where the GOP is outnumbered by more than 4-to-1. But despite the stunningly low turnout of about 8 percent, Mr. Cummings walked away with it.

Later this year, Mr. Cummings and Mr. Kondner will face each other again, when they compete in the Nov. 5 general election for the full, two-year congressional term that begins in January.

While awaiting returns, Mr. Cummings said he felt "very good" about the results, but expressed concerns about "the very low turnout in the city."

The election dealt Mr. Kondner, a 54-year-old dental technician, a fourth defeat in his attempts to win the 7th District -- which stretches from East Baltimore across the center of the city and includes most of West Baltimore and western Baltimore County.

Preliminary vote totals were not available last night for the write-in candidate, Barry Patrick Farley, 40, an unemployed security guard from Remington. While Mr. Farley's name did not appear on the ballot in voting machines, it did appear on notices in polling places.

Baltimore city and county schools, where the bulk of polling places are located, remained open yesterday, though they usually are closed. Election officials reported a few minor problems -- mostly voter confusion over voting machines being placed in areas of schools that were different than in other elections, so the disruption to students was minimal.

Baltimore city and county election officials expected a low voter turnout, but they were shocked by the showing yesterday.

"I thought it would at least reach double digits, maybe 10 or 11 percent," said Barbara E. Jackson, the city's election administrator.

"This is disgraceful -- there's no other word for it," she said. "The people should be ashamed they sat this election out."

Until yesterday, turnout for the 7th District primary election last month had the dubious honor of having the lowest turnout on record. In that race, 17 percent of the district's county voters came out, and 20 percent of the city's share voted.

But from the start yesterday, voters trickled to the polls.

By 11 a.m., just more than 1 percent of the district's 203,253 city voters had made it to the polls, which opened at 7 a.m. By late afternoon, the city turnout had only reached 4 percent, and about 5 percent of the 68,058 registered voters in the county portion of the 7th District had voted.

The special election yesterday capped an extraordinary four-month process to replace Mr. Mfume, a five-term Democrat who announced in December he was leaving Congress for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Mfume's announcement set off a stampede of candidates for his seat -- a record-breaking 27 Democrats and five Republicans -- that was winnowed to Mr. Cummings and Mr. Kondner in the March 5 primary election.

The Democratic primary -- a wide-open race that included six elected officials and three ministers -- pitted legislator against legislator, clergyman against clergyman, Eastside against Westside and city against county.

It was a race that strained, if not fractured, some of the city's fragile political alliances.

In the Republican primary, Mr. Kondner, who lost to Mr. Mfume in 1990, 1992 and 1994, won against four other candidates in the first contested GOP primary in 10 years for the 7th District seat.

The timing of Mr. Mfume's exit meant that for the first time in Maryland history, a congressional vacancy was occurring in the same year as the congressional election.

Those circumstances required the General Assembly to pass emergency legislation merging the special primary election to fill the 7th District vacancy with the state's regular, but early, March 5 primary. Without the change in law, two separate primaries would have been required.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

7th District

4*Candidate .. .. .. .. .. .. Votes .. .. %

Elijah Cummings, D .. ... 17,912 ... .. 81

Kenneth Kondner, R .. .. . 4,130 ... .. 19

100% of precincts reporting

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