Cummings’s successor: Meet three state lawmakers vying for the seat
From left, Maryland state Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Del. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City), Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard). (From left: Brian O’Doherty; Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post; Terri Hill for Congress
A firebrand liberal. A veteran legislative leader. A doctor who sees public service as “a calling.”
Three Maryland state lawmakers are seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings, even as his widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and his close friend, Kweisi Mfume, occupy the spotlight.
State Sen. Jill P. Carter (Baltimore City), a liberal former public defender; Del. Talmadge Branch (Baltimore City), the longtime majority whip in the House of Delegates; and Del. Terri L. Hill (Howard), a plastic surgeon, are proven vote-getters in their districts who say they can turn out a winning coalition for the Feb. 4 primary.
Turnout is expected to be low when voters select Democratic and Republican nominees for the April 28 special election, which will determine who serves the remainder of Cummings’s term representing Maryland’s deep-blue 7th Congressional District.
Democrats and Republicans will also compete for their party’s nomination to serve a full two-year term on April 28, the day of Maryland’s presidential primary. The nominees will face off in November.
Rockeymoore Cummings, a former state party chair who appears frequently on cable news shows, and Mfume, a former NAACP president who held the 7th District seat before Cummings, have the strongest national profiles in a field that includes 24 Democrats.
But Branch, Carter and Hill have all won elections in recent years, in districts that overlap with the 7th.
Each is hoping to edge past Rockeymoore Cummings and Mfume. Less of a factor is a fourth state lawmaker who will also appear on the ballot, Del. Jay Jalisi (Baltimore County), who was formally reprimanded in the General Assembly last year after reports that he had mistreated his legislative staff.
“I knew that if I didn’t do this now, that it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime,” Branch said in an interview.
At a recent forum at Soul Harvest Church and Ministries in Baltimore, he told voters that he wanted to take his 25 years of experience in Annapolis to Washington “and bring the bacon back home for you.”
Here is an introduction to Branch, Carter and Hill.
Jill Carter: ‘Unapologetic progressive’
Fiery and confident, Carter, 55, has staked out a position left-of-center.
She was a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary, in a state that strongly backed Hillary Clinton. She supports Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, a sweeping set of policy goals that aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guarantees jobs for all.
During her first years in the House of Delegates, she voted against a bill that would have required anyone who was arrested to submit DNA samples. She also pushed back hard against then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s “zero tolerance” policing policies, which led to what she calls “mass illegal arrests” for offenses such as loitering and littering.
As a senator, her public questioning of deals between the University of Maryland Medical System and its board members last year led to multiple resignations within the system, and triggered the departure of Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh.
“It is moderate and passive Democrats and Republicans that have gotten us into the mess we’re in and completely corrupted our political system,” Carter said during the forum. She described herself to the audience as an “unapologetic progressive Democrat,” and said she was inspired to public service by her father, the late civil rights leader Walter P. Carter.
Carter served in the House of Delegates from 2003 to 2017, then resigned to serve as director of Pugh’s civil rights office, overseeing police brutality allegations, among other duties.
She returned to Annapolis the following year, when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) appointed her to serve the remaining Senate term of Nathaniel T. Oaks, who had been indicted on federal corruption charges.
Carter won a full Senate term later that year, after a primary contest with O’Malley’s son-in-law, J.D. Merrill, who accused her of poor attendance as a delegate. She garnered about 10,067 votes, compared to Merrill’s 7,097, results show.
She has the most robust social media strategy of the field and said she hopes her supporters’ enthusiastic digital presence translates to votes.
Talmadge Branch: Deep knowledge of politics
Branch, 63, the House majority whip since 2008, says he is running on his record of working with Democrats and Republicans — sometimes behind the scenes — to pass legislation.
The murder of his 22-year-old grandson, Tyrone Ray, outside a Baltimore convenience store in 2017, prompted Branch to push to add $3.6 million to expand the city’s Safe Streets program from three locations to about nine.
He was previously chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Branch was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1994, while Cummings was speaker pro tem. He supported Cummings’s first campaign for Congress, when Mfume gave up the seat to run the NAACP.
A reserved pragmatist, Branch says he learned how Washington works in the 1980s, as special assistant to congressman Parren Mitchell. Mitchell held the 7th District seat before Cummings and was the first African American elected to Congress from Maryland.
Branch said he thought about running for Congress for decades and watched as friends from West Baltimore held the seat — first Mitchell, followed by Mfume and then Cummings. He said he believes his roots in East Baltimore, where he has lived since childhood, may help his chances in this campaign.
If Mfume and Carter split the West Baltimore vote, Rockeymoore Cummings wins Baltimore County and Hill wins Howard County, his campaign theorizes, he could win the seat on the strength of the vote in the eastern part of the city.
Branch won his last primary election with 6,394 votes, in a field of 11 candidates, results show.
Terri Hill: Doctor, problem-solver
As a physician, Hill, 60, said she can bring her health-care expertise to Washington to address the ballooning cost of insurance and prescription drugs. She likes to tell audiences that Congress doesn’t need more lawyers, career politicians and policy experts.
“I think that resonates with people, because not only is health care the No. 1 issue across America, particularly with Democrats, but we are dealing with health as a crisis in other ways, too,” she said in an interview.
A delegate since 2015, Hill last year sponsored a key amendment to prescription drug affordability legislation that caps what the state will pay for drugs, a concern she said she hears from patients daily.
She is also working with state and national groups to improve her bill to ban tackling in youth football, which failed to pass in past sessions.
Hill lived in Philadelphia until age 10, when her parents were drawn to Columbia by the promise of an economically and socially diverse community.
She attended public school in Howard County, worked as an intern in the office of then-Sen. Paul Sarbanes, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in bioelectric engineering and earned her medical degree in 1985 from Columbia University.
Today, she lives in Columbia. Although her base of support is in Howard County, Hill noted she has strong ties to Baltimore and is a longtime member of St. Bernardine Catholic Church in the city’s Edmondson Village neighborhood.
Her training in “evidence-based problem solving” would be an asset in Congress, she said at the forum, “because we need to have our problems solved.”
“If you want an experienced legislator, a woman who is a fighter, who is a fierce advocate . . . who has stepped out because it is a calling, then you want Terri Hill,” she said.