He was the predecessor to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, initially leaving Congress to lead the NAACP. Mfume was reelected to the same seat in a special election in April, becoming Cummings’ successor following the late congressman’s death after a long bout of health complications, during the October 2019 impeachment hearings against President Trump.
Mfume is facing off against Republican newcomer Kim Klacik, who lost to Mfume in the special election that relied heavily on mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, she has garnered national attention after President Trump retweeted her campaign ad in August, catapulting her to GOP stardom and earning her a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.
She’s made a name for herself by putting Democrats on notice for expecting the Black vote despite, in her words, leaving Baltimore in ruin and abandoning Black communities. A loss for Mfume would be a historic upset, given Democrats have held the 7th District for decades.
Here’s a summary of what to know about the Democratic candidate defending his congressional seat.
What’s his background?
Mfume, who is in his early 70s, represented Maryland’s 7th district from 1987 to 1996 until he left Congress to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). To date, he’s served five and one-fifth terms and is asking voters to send him back to Capitol Hill for another full two-year term.
In an on-camera interview two weeks ago with local WBAL-TV at his Baltimore campaign office, Mfume said his focus was on responding to the coronavirus pandemic, blaming President Trump for what he described as a lack of action.
“I have problems with bullies, and Donald Trump and I are in the same generation, so I have no problem calling him out whatsoever, as I’m sure he would call me out. But I don’t like bullies,” Mfume said. “Particularly now in our pandemic, and the first topic, obviously, is health, and it’s followed by safety, and then it’s followed by actions by government to make life better.”
“People expect, and rightly so, that the Congress and the White House will find a way to work together and get this done. We’re still waiting on the White House,” he said.
Despite touting his tenure at the nation’s oldest civil rights organization while running in the special election this year, The Baltimore Sun reported in January that Mfume was forced out of the national chapter of the NAACP in 2004 after several negative performance reviews and a vote by the executive committee not to grant him a new contract.
“The executive committee’s overwhelming vote was not lightly taken,” then-NAACP Chairman Julian Bond wrote at the time before sharing the decision to remove Mfume with the board, according to the newspaper. “It came after a long period of growing dissatisfaction with high and constant staff turnovers, falling revenues, falling memberships, three consecutive negative performance appraisals, highly questionable hiring and promotion decisions, creation of new staff positions with no job descriptions, and personal behavior which placed each of us at legal and financial risk.”
Mfume raised just $184,349 for his campaign from July 1 through Sept. 30, compared to the whopping over $6.4 million raised by his opponent, Klacik, during the same quarter. Klacik’s fundraising success was largely due to out-of-state donors after her primetime slot at the Republican National Convention, and Mfume accused her of trying to buy the election by conspiring with President Trump.
“This congressional seat belongs to the people of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County,” Mfume said in a statement, according to The Baltimore Sun. “Donald Trump and Kim Klacik cannot buy it. They should take their money and greed somewhere else, because we are not for sale. Not now, not ever.”
His latest short term
Mfume recently released a term report outlining what he’s accomplished since taking the oath of office in May to join the 116th Congress. As the pandemic ravaged both public health and the economy, Mfume said one of his first official actions in Congress was voting to pass the first coronavirus stimulus bill to ensure testing, treatment and tracing in his district.
“Less than two months later, and amid the global health emergency, I watched as courageous residents of the 7th District marched into the streets to demand racial equality and an end to police brutality,” Mfume said in the term report released in early November.
He said he responded on the federal level by helping to write and sponsor the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and, months later, cosponsored the Jobs and Justice Act of 2020, “another step in the sustained fight against systemic racism and centuries of racial oppression in America.”
He said the measure includes more than 200 provisions designed to bring jobs and justice to disadvantaged Black, brown and poor communities. During his short term, Mfume said he voted to combat the impacts of climate change and “reimagine a public education system that is equitable and built for the 21st century.” He aims to expand ObamaCare and to defend Medicare and Medicaid in the federal budget and supports a higher, livable minimum wage and protections for small businesses.
Mfume said he also supported community partners, local law enforcement and faith leaders in their efforts to combat crime and gun violence in his district and made fixing the economy and infrastructure top priorities “by ensuring federal funding for projects throughout the state.”
He said he also has responded to hundreds of constituent inquiries and held virtual town halls to discuss plans and ideas for addressing a variety of issues.
“I look forward to building on the progress we’ve made and remain committed to creating a new vision for the 7th District of Maryland, one where opportunity is available and abundant for all of those who call it home,” he wrote.
Mfume easily defeated Klacik in the April contest that was pared down to just three polling stations due to the coronavirus, and where voters were encouraged to mail in their ballots ahead of time.
He will serve out the rest of Cummings’ term, which ends in January, and also won the June primary to be the nominee for a full term in the November election.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than four to one in Mfume’s district, which includes a significant portion of the city of Baltimore, as well as parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. The diverse district includes parts of Baltimore that have struggled with poverty and violent crime, as well as more affluent areas and landmarks such as Johns Hopkins Hospital.
A champion for stricter gun control measures and promoting apprenticeships for young people – citing joblessness as a precursor to crime – in a region riddled with violence, Mfume clinched the majority of votes in the city of Baltimore, as well as both Howard and Baltimore counties.
The district includes an area in Baltimore that had the highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the state for weeks. Democratic lawmakers have opined over the disproportionate deaths of African Americans from COVID-19, citing socioeconomic factors that contribute to the high death tolls.
Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.