Cummings feels at home in D.C. In the House: Maryland's newest congressman, representing the 7th District, is sworn in and says he is both comfortable and awed being on the floor of the House of Representatives.

April 26, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- During his first afternoon as a congressman, Elijah E. Cummings reflexively got up from his desk and began to walk across his new Capitol Hill office to get a soda. His legislative director politely stopped him and then returned from a closet with a Diet Pepsi.

It was one of many small signs yesterday that Mr. Cummings' life had fundamentally changed. That morning, he had stood in the well of the House of Representatives as Speaker Newt Gingrich swore him in as Maryland's 7th District congressman before a cheering crowd of friends, family and fellow state politicians.

In a speech to the House afterward, he seemed filled with an appreciation of how far he had come from his poor beginnings in South Baltimore. "Only God could create a path where the son of two sharecroppers from South Carolina could rise to represent the people of the 7th Congressional District in the Congress of the United States," Mr. Cummings said.

"So often we in public life forget that we are very fortunate to come upon this earth and have an opportunity to serve. I'm just a happy, happy man," he added.

Mr. Cummings, 45, won a special election last week to replace Kweisi Mfume in the 7th District, a diverse area that stretches from Belair-Edison to Woodlawn, from Catonsville to Reisterstown.

Formerly a state legislator and the second-ranking leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, Mr. Cummings, must run again for a full term in November but is expected to win easily in the heavily Democratic district.

Mr. Cummings, an attorney, drove from Baltimore for his first day of work, with his daughter Jennifer, 13. When he entered the near-empty House floor at 9: 45 a.m., dozens of well-wishers in the gallery jumped to their feet and applauded.

Before the ceremony, members of Congress lined up to shake his hand. Fellow Maryland lawmakers greeted him with hugs and kisses.

It had to be a heady experience for Mr. Cummings, who as a boy was told by a guidance counselor to give up his dream of becoming a lawyer and learn a trade instead. But as Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, introduced him to the House, Mr. Cummings appeared comfortable, leaning slightly against the lower rostrum.

After his swearing-in, he said he felt both at home and awed on the House floor.

The 7th District seat has a special place in Maryland politics. Baltimore-area blacks first demonstrated their power more than 25 years ago when they elected Parren J. Mitchell the state's first black congressman.

Yesterday, in an unusual move, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Mfume, who resigned to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, visited the House floor to wish Mr. Cummings well.

Mr. Cummings, in turn, honored Mr. Mitchell, repeating one of the former congressman's favorite poems about cherishing life's opportunities.

"I only have a minute, 60 seconds in it," said Mr. Cummings, employing the rhythmic, preacherlike speaking style that helped make his reputation in Annapolis. "I know I must use it, give account if I abuse it. Oh, yes, I have a minute, but eternity is in it."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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