We need another work horse, not a show pony, to replace Elijah Cummings

The Democratic primary for the special election to fill the vacancy in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District created by the death of Elijah Cummings will be held on February 4th. I want to explain why I will be voting for former congressman Kweisi Mfume, who held the seat from 1987 to 1996, when he resigned to become the president of the NAACP.

First of all, I believe that Mr. Mfume is by far the most qualified candidate, with a solid record of accomplishment both in and out of Congress. Secondly, he is a work horse, not a show pony. And I am very tired of political show ponies.

Show ponies do whatever it takes to make themselves the center of attention. The customary modus operandi is to generate as much controversy and melodrama as possible through provocative statements and personal attacks. They are more interested in television airtime and Twitter followers than legislative progress; as far as their audiences are concerned, the more provocative the better. They like to portray themselves as “fighters,” although what they are fighting for is the limelight, not concrete results.

Show ponies focus on burnishing their public images, not on establishing relationships and credibility with colleagues. That is why show ponies get little if anything done in Congress, a body that moves forward only through compromise and consensus-building. Show ponies use people; they don’t work with people. Consequently, they marginalize themselves in Congress and become irrelevant except in the alternate universe that is social media.

The stature achieved by Mr. Mfume while he was in Congress was illustrated by the words of former president Bill Clinton upon Mr. Mfume’s resignation to become president of the NAACP:

“When Kweisi called me to tell me he was going to take this job, in the words of an old country song, I didn’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling. I had become almost emotionally dependent upon him being in the Congress – supporting me when I needed it, reprimanding me when I needed it, whether I knew it or not.

He is a uniquely gifted man, with a personal history that shimmers with the promise of America and the possibility of personal renewal and the virtue of never giving up on yourself or your family or your common possibility.”

One of the finest tributes to Mr. Mfume was the reaction to his candidacy to succeed Mr. Cummings by two former colleagues in Congress from Maryland, Bob Ehrlich and Wayne Gilchrest. Both are Republicans who didn’t often agree with Mr. Mfume on the issues but considered him a friend.

Mr. Ehrlich stated that Mr. Mfume’s decision to run was “very, very good news for Baltimore and Maryland and for politics generally,” hailing him as a “throwback to a different era” when legislators were “willing to work across the aisle.”

Mr. Gilchrest went so far as to describe Mr. Mfume not only as a good friend but as a mentor. “Like [Mr. Cummings], he’s a tower of strength and integrity,” Gilchrest added.

And, also like Mr. Cummings, Mr. Mfume is a work horse, not a show pony. There already are too many show ponies in Congress on both sides of the aisle. Baltimore can ill afford a representative in Congress who gets little done other than garner publicity.

I was proud to have Mr. Cummings as my congressman. I look forward to Mr. Mfume continuing the legacy of having the very best people Maryland has to offer represent the 7th Congressional District. People willing to do the hard, unglamorous work necessary to get things done. Work horses, not show ponies.

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