Special Elections for Elijah Cummings’ Seat Set

October 29, 2019by Pamela Wood
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings gives remarks during a ceremony celebrating the life of her husband, Elijah Cummings. A public viewing and community celebration for Congressman Elijah E. Cummings was held at Morgan State University. (Ulysses Mu/The Baltimore Sun/TNS)

BALTIMORE — Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday announced that a special primary election for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’ seat representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District would be held Feb. 4, with a special general election April 28.

The announcement kicks off a campaign to replace the longtime Baltimore congressman, who rose to prominence as a chief critic and investigator of President Donald Trump, as well as a defender of his hometown in the face of slights from the president.

Candidates who want to run for the seat can file their candidacy paperwork starting Wednesday, with a deadline of Nov. 20.

The special general election will be the same day as the regular primary elections for the 2020 election cycle — a decision Hogan said he made to save money and lessen confusion for when voters need to show up at the polls.

Hogan also said he hoped the schedule would allow candidates enough time to have “a robust campaign,” while also making sure that the process doesn’t drag on.

“It is imperative for the 7th Congressional District to have a strong voice in the House of Representatives, and today we are ensuring the process to fill this historic Maryland seat moves forward in a fair and timely manner,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.

The winner would finish the remainder of Cummings’ term, which ends in January 2021. Any candidate who wishes to win a full, two-year term starting in that month would need to run in the regular election cycle, with the primaries on April 28 and the general election in November.

An open congressional seat in the Baltimore area is rare, and many Democrats have been weighing whether to run. The region’s other representatives, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, are Democrats who have been in office since 2003 and 2007, respectively.

Cummings, who had cancer, died Oct. 17.

Many are looking to see if his widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, wants to succeed her husband.

In 2017, Rockeymoore Cummings announced she would seek the Democratic nomination for governor to challenge Hogan the next year. She dropped out in early 2018 when her husband was hospitalized in the latest in a string of health setbacks.

Rockeymoore Cummings — who was elected chairwoman of the state Democratic Party in December 2018 — has not said whether she will run for her husband’s seat. She did not reply Monday to messages.

There are currently no women in Maryland’s congressional delegation.

Democratic Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard County said she’s thinking about whether she should run.

“Some folks have been calling me about it and reaching out to me. I’ve had some serious conversations about it,” she said Monday.

Atterbeary noted that as a Howard resident, she would have to convince voters in the other parts of the district — which includes much of Baltimore and a chunk of Baltimore County — that she would represent their interests, as well of those in her home county.

Democratic state Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore said he’s been “enthused” by calls and text messages he’s gotten from people encouraging him to run.

“I’m actually giving it serious consideration,” he said.

Baltimore County Delegate Charles Sydnor, a Democrat, said he considers it an honor that people are urging him to run for Cummings’ seat. Sydnor said he looks forward to being part of the conversation “about who could assume the great privilege of taking up his work.”

Democratic Delegate Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County, who was reprimanded by his colleagues this year for mistreating staff in Annapolis, said he would decide in the next week or two whether to run.

“Elijah was such a towering figure in our country’s politics that whoever will be elected will have such huge shoes to fill,” Jalisi said. “He’s not just an average congressman.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who had been among rumored potential candidates, said Monday that he has not given “serious consideration” to running.

“Losing my friend and mentor Congressman Cummings is a great loss to our community,” Ball said. “As we work to heal, we need to unify to ensure we have a strong voice in that seat.”

Members of Congress must be 25 years old and residents of the state they wish to represent. They are not required to live in the district.

Cummings won the seat in 1996 after a primary with 27 candidates in which he received 37% of the vote. After his first election, he never faced a strong opponent and won all of his elections by lopsided margins. In 2018, he won reelection with 76% of the vote.

Elections officials could not immediately estimate how much the special election will cost.

Local governments pay for the workers who run polling places, while the state and the local governments split the cost of machines, ballots and transportation, said Donna Duncan, assistant deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Many logistical details need to be worked out, Duncan said, including securing polling places for the Feb. 4 primary and determining if early voting will be offered ahead of the primary. Public schools, which often are used in polling places, are scheduled to be open for classes Feb. 4 in all three jurisdictions in the district.

The district’s voters are 68% Democratic, with just 16% Republican voters and the rest unaffiliated or belonging to third parties, making it difficult for any candidate who is not a Democrat to win the seat.

Dr. Mark Gosnell, a pulmonologist with MedStar Health, has announced that he is running as a Democrat for the seat.

On the Republican side, Liz Matory has announced that she intends to run for the seat. She tried unsuccessfully last year to unseat Ruppersberger in the 2nd District.

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©2019 The Baltimore Sun

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