Elected officials, advocates remember late Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings

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Image via Elijah Cummings’ website

Elijah Cummings, the son of former sharecroppers who rose to serve in the halls of the Maryland State House and Congress, totaling 36 years in elected office, has died. He was 68.

Cummings’ office said in a statement that he passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.” The representative had not returned to his office as originally planned this week after undergoing a recent medical procedure, and he missed multiple roll call votes earlier this week, The Sun reported yesterday.

He reportedly hadn’t participated in a roll call vote since Sept. 11.

Earlier this year, after the Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives, Cummings was appointed to chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, where played a prominent role in investigating the Trump administration.

“We are in a fight for the soul of our democracy,” Cummings told “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft earlier this year. “And you’ve got to understand that. This is serious business.”

Using that role, Cummings, whose 7th District includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County, challenged the White House on Donald Trump’s personal finances and Congressional subpoenas, and the administration’s handling of migrants in captivity at the border.

When Trump tweeted that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts should “go back” to other countries, Cummings told The Sun in July that it reminded him of the summer of 1962, when he and other local activists integrated a pool in Riverside Park.

Racists shouted similar things as the group made their stand, he recalled: “Go back where you came from!”

“I don’t think these Republicans or Trump fully understand what it feels like to be treated like less than a dog,” he reflected.

Nearly two weeks later, Cummings–and the city of Baltimore–was in the middle of Trump’s social media crosshairs, with the president calling the Congressman’s district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Cummings responded: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.

“It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”

After working as a lawyer, Cummings was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983 and, according to a Congressional biography, became the first African American in state history to be named Speaker Pro Tem. 

He ran for Congress in 1996 and won–the seat he would hold for the rest of his life. Below are statements (some edited for brevity) from local and national public figures about Cummings’ remarkable life.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

Barack Obama
“Michelle and I are heartbroken over the passing of our friend, Elijah Cummings. As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy, but also the necessity of good people stewarding it.

Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day. And true to the giants of progress he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him most. May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service.

Our deepest sympathies and abiding love go to his wife, Maya, his three children, and all those whose lives he touched.”

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young
“With the passing of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the City of Baltimore, our country, and people throughout the world have lost a powerful voice and one of the strongest and most gifted crusaders for social justice.

Rep. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers whose ancestors were slaves, wasn’t afraid to use his considerable intellect, booming voice, and poetic oratory to speak out against brutal dictators bent on oppression, unscrupulous business executives who took advantage of unsuspecting customers, or even a U.S. President. He was, put simply, a man of God who never forgot his duty to fight for the rights and dignity of the marginalized and often forgotten.

As we enter this period of mourning, let us remember his long legacy of justice as an example to us all of a life well lived.”

Council President Brandon Scott
“Today Baltimore has lost its Congressman and our country has lost a true American hero. I am eternally grateful for his mentorship and for blazing a trail that opened doors for sons of Baltimore like me to serve in elected office. He motivated generations of Baltimoreans to public service through his inspirational speeches and deep commitment to our young people. He motivated me to serve.

I am a better person and undoubtedly a better public servant because of Congressman Cummings. I will miss hearing “Brandon, I need to see you.” He imparted invaluable lessons during our meetings. He was never satisfied with good enough and constantly sought solutions to our City’s most persistent problems. He cared deeply about Baltimore and everyone in it.

My heart goes out to Dr. Rockeymoore Cummings and the entire Cummings family.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
“The people of Baltimore, the U.S. Congress and America have lost a voice of unsurpassed moral clarity and truth: our beloved Chairman Elijah Cummings. I am personally devastated by his passing.

In the House, Elijah was our North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose. His principled leadership as Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform was the perfect testament to his commitment to restoring honesty and honor to government, and leaves a powerful legacy for years to come.

Chairman Cummings’ story was the story of America: a sharecroppers’ son who dedicated his life to advancing justice, respecting human dignity and ending discrimination. He believed in the promise of America because he had lived it, and he dedicated his life to advancing the values that safeguard our republic: justice, equality, liberty, fairness.

Earlier this year, Chairman Cummings asked us, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” May Chairman Cummings’ strength guide us as we carry on his work to honor the oath and protect our democracy.

In the Congress, we will miss his wisdom, his warm friendship and his great humanity. In Baltimore, we will miss our champion. May it be a comfort to his wife Maya, his three children and Chairman Cummings’ entire family that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Del. Nick Mosby
“Rep. Elijah Cummings represents everything that is honorable about public service. He is literally the standard for moral & effective leadership. Baltimore has never had a greater champion & our family joins the entire country in mourning the passing of this giant of a man.

After we pause to reflect on his immense legacy, the greatest tribute we can make is to commit ourselves to the work and the people he cared so deeply about.”

Joe Biden
“Elijah Cummings always knew where he was supposed to be. He knew the fights that needed a champion, and he never hesitated to jump into the fray. He was a true public servant, his life defined by the love of his community and a fierce commitment to ensuring truth wins over power. Whether facing a hail of bottles and insults as a young man marching to integrate a swimming pool, or giving voice to the frustrations of so many communities demanding to be treated with dignity, or rushing to calm the city’s streets, bullhorn in hand, after the funeral of Freddie Gray, Elijah’s life of action was synonymous with the history and progress of modern Baltimore. The city he loved shaped his consciousness, and he, in turn, helped shape the conscience of our nation.

His story traced an unmistakably American arc: the son of sharecroppers whose talent and passion led him to make history, first in the halls of Maryland’s House of Delegates, and ultimately in the Congress of the United States of America. Americans across the country knew and respected the moral authority of his booming baritone in the Congressional hearing room. His example showed us how to stand firmly for our rights and for what is right, how to never back down, without turning to personal disparagement and recrimination. He made us and our politics better, and I am honored to have served alongside him and known him as a friend.

The entire Biden family sends our condolences to his wife, Maya, his children, and the entire city of Baltimore. We have, this day, lost a lion of democracy and a powerful ally in the fight for the soul of our nation.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
“Elijah Cummings was not just a great congressman, but a great man.

He had a combination of being strong when he had to be, but also being kind and decent and caring and honorable.

I pray for his family and for the country when people like Elijah are not with us any longer.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
“Rep. Elijah Cummings was a giant in the House, an unwavering champion for his district and all Americans, and a dear friend. My heart goes out to his wife Maya and his family.

Good people everywhere will miss his rumbling voice, his kind heart, and his deep conviction that every human being has worth. Rest in power, Elijah.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen
“At a time of chaos and division, our friend Elijah Cummings stood strong as a man of principle, unity, dignity, and compassion. His insatiable thirst for justice was rooted in his core. Maryland has lost a beloved son and our nation a hero of our times.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin

“Chairman Elijah E. Cummings and I shared a city, an alma mater, a love of the law and a life of public service. I am deeply saddened by his passing, and my prayers today are with his family and loved ones – and the people of Baltimore. The death of Chairman Cummings leaves an irreplaceable void in our hearts, in our Maryland and in our Congress.

Quite possibly no elected official mattered so much to his constituents. Chairman Cummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one, and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate. His commitment to his city and country was unwavering, as will be my lasting respect for him.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker
“Today our country lost a true leader. Congressman Elijah Cummings was a friend, a passionate fighter for justice, and a powerful voice of moral conscience in our government who served his country for decades with dignity and integrity. I’m blessed to have known him.”

Rep. John Sarbanes
“We have lost a giant. Elijah Cummings was a fighter, a committed public servant and a patriot in every sense of the word. He represented the best of our nation. Throughout his time in the public arena, Elijah worked tirelessly to bring better education, economic opportunity, health care and hope to the City of Baltimore, to Maryland and to the entire country. In Congress, he fought to uphold the Constitution, safeguard our democracy, protect the sacred right to vote, and hold the powerful accountable to the American people.

I am heartbroken by Elijah’s passing. He was a dear friend and a trusted mentor. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the entire Cummings family and all those fortunate enough to have known Elijah and be touched by his public service. We will miss him deeply, but we can keep his memory alive and follow the example he set by continuing to fight for justice and by working every single day to make life better for our fellow Americans.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin
“It is hard to measure the enormity of the loss we have just suffered. Elijah was the beloved favorite son of Maryland and the prophetic voice of moral integrity and social rebuilding that America needs so desperately.

It is hard to imagine going on in these hard days without his passion, his decency and his brilliance, but he would be the first to tell us that we must not waver and we must not falter.

For Elijah, it was always about the children–the messengers we send to a future we won’t see. So we must redouble and expand our work in his honor. I will miss him every day.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
“I was shocked and saddened to learn the news this morning of my dear friend’s passing. Elijah Cummings was a man of principle, patriotism, and conviction, whose loss will be deeply felt throughout the State of Maryland and our country.

For over two decades, we served together in the House, and I learned many lessons from observing Elijah at work. He taught his colleagues how to persevere in the face of adversity, laboring through health challenges in recent years out of a love for serving his constituents and country. He taught us patience and fortitude when confronted with malice from opponents, which he answered with ‘charity for all.’ And his faith in democracy served as a lesson to us all. When talking about the times we fell short of our Founders’ vision, Elijah would say ‘we are better than this.’ Elijah Cummings was better than most. He led the charge to make our democracy better by being better than those who would bring it low and leading by example.”

The Congressional Black Caucus
As a lifelong advocate for justice, equality, and the truth, Elijah Cummings was the true definition of a leader & his commitment to civility & humanity were invaluable in times such as these.

To many, he was a friend & mentor, but to the members of the CBC, Elijah was family.

Gov. Larry Hogan
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades. Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better.

Maryland’s First Lady and I ask Marylanders to join us in praying for his loved ones, his constituents, and his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford
“Congressman Elijah Cummings was a dedicated public servant for 36 years, a trailblazer who was unafraid to speak up for what he believed in and the people he represented. His passing will undoubtedly be felt by the people of Baltimore and by people all across our state and nation.

“It is times like these that we put politics aside and remember a man who deeply cared for the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. My wife Monica and I, and our entire family, join with many others in praying for Rep. Cummings’ friends and family, especially his wife Maya, that they find comfort in his legacy during this difficult time. May he Rest In Peace.”

Comptroller Peter Franchot
“There are so many ways to describe this remarkable man who grew up in the most modest of circumstances, rose to once-unimaginable heights of political power, and never, ever stopped fighting to give others the very same opportunities he had. In the days to come, we will assemble our thoughts and do the best we can to do justice to the life and golden legacy of Elijah Cummings.

Today, however, I’ll simply say that we’ve lost our friend at a time when our city, state and country needs his voice and his moral clarity more than ever before. There will never be another Elijah Cummings. For the good of our embattled nation, however, and for the countless children and families who would have long been forgotten if not for Elijah’s good fight, we must try so much harder to live up to the values that defined his life.”

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.
“Congressman Cummings believed in the power of government to improve lives, and he was a champion for those who most needed a strong voice speaking up on their behalf in Washington. He dedicated his life to the people of the Baltimore region, and we are all better for his selfless service. May he Rest In Peace.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball
“I have lived in Congressman Cummings’s district my entire life. I still clearly remember the support and wisdom he gave me after I was first elected to office, and that continued over the years. He was more than a mentor to me–he was a friend, a confidante, and a role model. Congressman Cummings was someone who would take my call whenever I needed him, provided the best advice, and was always gracious and kind. He treated me and my family, like he did all his constituents, as if we were his family.

I never witnessed any politician transcend politics like he did. He would make every person he met feel special- no matter if they were Democrat or Republican, young or old, rich or poor, from Baltimore, Howard County, or anywhere else. Congressman Cummings would often say, ‘Diversity is our strength,’ to inspire us and ‘We’re better than that’ to motivate us, when our nation needed it most. These simple thoughts represent both the spirit and reality of Howard County, Baltimore and the entirety of our state.”

City Councilman Zeke Cohen
“Elijah Cummings inspired me to go into public service. From the moment I moved to Baltimore, I wanted to be like him. He spoke with complete moral clarity. Elijah invested love and mentorship into me.

Today I lost a dear friend. WE lost the voice of conscience for our country.”

State Sen. Mary Washington
“There are no words to sufficiently convey the depth of our sorrow when we learned of the passing of this great man. We in the 43rd District, Baltimore City, Maryland and Worldwide have been blessed to count on him as a friend and mentor. He has been with us in every fight. A strong and steady light in what was too frequently a dull and dismal political landscape. A champion who gave a full throated voice to our hopes and our outrage.

Our hearts go out to Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings , her family and indeed the world. We will miss him! Good night and rest in peace, our Honorable Elijah Cummings, your spirit will live on as we continue this fight.”

Del. Brooke Lierman
“It is a particularly dark morning in Baltimore today. I am heartbroken about the death of our leader Elijah Cummings. He was the voice of moral clarity for our City & nation. My heart is with his wife, family & staff. He was everything a public servant should be. Rest In Peace.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison
“I was profoundly saddened to learn of the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings. In my short time here in Baltimore, I grew to know him well and deeply value his support, encouragement and advice. He was a trailblazer for the civil rights movement, an icon in this community and a great supporter of the Baltimore Police Department. His presence will be missed forever. We pray that God will give his family peace and comfort during this time.”

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill
“It is impossible to imagine a member of Congress I trusted more than Elijah Cummings. He was fiercely committed to Baltimore City, but committed most of all to fighting for justice and opportunity for those living at the margins. LDF has been privileged to work with Rep. Cummings for nearly a decade on housing discrimination, transportation and policing reform issues in Baltimore City. His focus was always on measures that would lift people up. He saw his own life–from his very humble beginnings to his career as a lawyer and then a Congressman–as an example of what could be possible for those who struggle at the margins of our society.

Over the past year, this country has had an opportunity to see the intensity of his work ethic, and his commitment to public service. Even more importantly, the entire nation has seen what mattered most to Elijah Cummings. It was essential to him that he led with humanity and that he acknowledged the humanity of others–even if he was your fiercest opponent. Elijah Cummings is irreplaceable. I shall miss him deeply. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Maya Rockeymore Cummings, and other members of his family.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations director of Maryland outreach Zainab Chaudry
“Congressman Cummings was a steadfast and relentless champion for democracy who continued to serve the American people until his final days. He was a force to be reckoned with, whose impact will be felt for decades to come. His passing is a tremendous loss for Baltimore, and for our entire country.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation president William C. Baker
“The death of Congressman Cummings is a huge loss for Maryland, and all Americans. He was a towering force for good, a champion of truth and justice for all, and a great friend and defender of the Chesapeake Bay. His wisdom and leadership will be sorely missed.”

This story will be updated.



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