Congressmen keep campaigns low-key

No primary challenge to Cardin, Cummings, but they keep going

March 04, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin discussed the census with fourth-graders at Owings Mills Elementary School and senior citizens in Lansdowne and Odenton.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings spent several hours at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, talking to doctors about the lives they save.

Not exactly the vote-catching, campaign-trail stumping you'd expect days before Super Tuesday. But then, neither Maryland Democrat is opposed in next week's primary election.

In November, Cardin will be challenged by Republican Colin Hamby for his 3rd District seat. Cummings will run against either Kenneth Kondner or Charles U. Smith, depending on the Republican primary outcome in the 7th District.

Neither incumbent would speculate on why he's not being challenged next week. Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said their records are the reason.

"They've done a very good job representing their districts," Johnson said this week. "Why would you run against somebody who has done such a good job? I wouldn't run against them. You're going to lose."

Cardin, 56, said he doesn't take votes for granted. And neither does Cummings.

"I work hard in the district. I work hard in Washington," Cardin said, minutes after he and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski answered questions Monday at O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton. "I explain to my constituents what they get with me, and it's their vote." Several people shook Cardin's hand at the senior center, thanking him for his work.

Cummings, 49, received a similar reception Monday morning while eating a breakfast bagel and sipping coffee at Crossroads Restaurant in Northwest Baltimore. Several people stopped by his table to acknowledge his labor, including Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Cummings said he pushes himself as hard as he pushes his staff. "I'm sure I work them to death, because my job is to empower people," he said.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said Cummings and Cardin complement each other and benefit Baltimore. He mentioned the $44 million they recently helped secure for city work force development. The money will be used to help young people obtain GEDs, learn how to write a resume and prepare for the work world.

"They're a tremendous asset, and I will continue to stay in close contact with them," O'Malley said of the two congressmen.

He said Cummings has been particularly helpful in Baltimore's efforts to get a more accurate census count than it had in 1990.

The last census count was woefully inaccurate, O'Malley said. According to a 1996 census update, Baltimore was the country's 15th-largest city. "We need to change [the undercounting], to get the help out of Washington, to get the money our census numbers determine," O'Malley said. "Congressman Cummings has been a leader in our drive to boost up our census numbers."

Both men have been courting voters for years.

Cardin, who grew up in the Pikesville area, was elected to the General Assembly in 1966 while he was earning a law degree at the University of Maryland. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986 and is seeking his eighth term.

Cardin demonstrated serious political interest early in his life, serving as class vice president during his senior year at City College and as a student senator at the University of Pittsburgh for three years.

Cummings, who grew up in southern Baltimore and now lives in the western part of the city, also attended City College and holds a law degree from the University of Maryland. He won Phi Beta Kappa honors at Howard University.

In 1982, while working as a lawyer, he won a state delegate's seat. He served in the General Assembly until 1996, when he won the congressional seat vacated by Kweisi Mfume, who left to become president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Cummings is on the Democratic Policy Committee, which articulates the party's congressional agenda, and the Democratic Steering Committee, which helps party members in Congress obtain committee assignments that benefit their districts and interests.

Among accomplishments he lists are persuading Vice President Al Gore in 1997 not to cut out $5.5 million in funding from Baltimore's Healthy Start infant mortality reduction program. Funding was reduced from $8 million in 1996 to $5 million in 1997 -- before Cummings intervened, it was to drop to $2.5 million.

Cummings also sponsored the Donor Leave Act last year, which gives federal employees an additional 30 days of paid leave when they want to donate an organ. Two years ago, he worked with Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, to secure $156 million for health care providers whose AIDS patients are primarily African-American. "I was really proud of that," Cummings said.

Cummings said he plans to focus on drug treatment this year in Congress.

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