Cummings startled by report of successor Afro says panel wants Carmena F. Watson

July 15, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings expressed surprise yesterday at a published report that community activist Carmena F. Watson would be chosen tomorrow to succeed him in the Maryland House of Delegates.

"Nobody ever said to me that Miss Watson was being named," said Cummings, the West Baltimore Democrat who won the 7th District seat in Congress in a special election in April.

Cummings reaffirmed his support for businesswoman Evelyn McCloud for the 44th District delegate slot, which will be filled by Gov. Parris N. Glendening based upon the recommendation of the district's Democratic Central Committee.

The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, which is closely identified with state Sen. Larry Young, reported last week that Watson, 62, would receive the committee's nomination. Young, who was reported to be traveling abroad, is believed to control the majority of votes on the panel.

Cummings said the five-member district committee reached a deadlock when it voted on a recommendation Tuesday. Two votes apiece went to Rodney A. Orange Sr., head of the city's NAACP chapter, and Jacquelyn D. Cornish, executive director of the Druid Heights community association. McCloud received the fifth vote.

The Afro-American reported that the committee settled on the lesser-known Watson af-ter finding they could not break the deadlock. However, Cummings said no formal vote to recommend Watson had been taken.

"The last conversation that I had with Senator Young is that we will discuss possible candidates [tomorrow] when he returns from vacation, and I'm looking forward to that," said Cummings, who succeeded Kweisi Mfume when the congressman resigned to take over the helm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The committee deadlock appeared particularly unusual because Cornish had asked that her name be removed from consideration several weeks earlier.

Orange, a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel, said Friday that the report in the Afro-American of Watson's selection came as a surprise to him.

"To my knowledge she has never expressed any desire to serve in an elected position and she didn't express any interest when this process started," he said. "I have no way of knowing why they went that route. I can only surmise that this is who [Young] wanted."

Cummings said the 44th District, which includes some of the most distressed neighborhoods in the city, needs a "strong voice" to fight to "uplift the lives" of constituents.

His call contrasts with a friend's description of Watson as "a quiet presence."

"I don't know her ever to be loud. I find her extremely gracious," said Jasmine Gunthorpe, community services coordinator of the St. Pius V Housing Committee, whose board is chaired by Watson.

Cummings did not directly criticize Watson but contended that McCloud was especially qualified because of her experience as an entrepreneur who built her catering business from scratch. But he also praised Cornish, saying "her credibility is second to none."

"I'm not wedded to any particular candidate, but I am wedded to having the very best the 44th has to offer," he said.

Watson, who has an unpublished telephone number, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Like McCloud, she is a member of the district central committee.

None of the other members of the committee could be reached for comment yesterday.

Gunthorpe said yesterday that she has known Watson since moving to the Harlem Park neighborhood in 1992. She described Watson as a longtime resident who is very active in the St. Pius committee's housing and community service efforts.

L "She's like a treasure in our neighborhood," Gunthorpe said.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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