Former NAACP chief and congressman Kweisi Mfume said Monday that he will run for the U.S. House seat most recently held by his friend Elijah E. Cummings, who died last month.

Considered an elder statesman in Baltimore politics, Mfume, 71, occupied Maryland’s 7th District seat from 1987 to 1996, when he stepped aside to lead the NAACP. Cummings (D) then ran for the seat and won.

Mfume’s up-from-the-streets story is well known in the district, which includes parts of Baltimore City as well as Baltimore and Howard counties.

He dropped out of high school, was a teenage father and turned to crime after his mother, who raised him in poverty, died of cancer in his arms when he was 16.

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Inspired by her memory, he says, he returned to school, earning degrees from Morgan State University and later Johns Hopkins University, and dedicated his life to civil rights and public service.

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Mfume has said he and Cummings met in the late 1970s, when Mfume was an activist and radio commentator, and hit it off immediately, despite campaigning for opposing political factions. They remained close friends until Cummings’s death.

“Today, we are here without Elijah,” Mfume said, announcing his candidacy at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in downtown Baltimore. “I honestly believe that I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all he and others fought for is not lost, tossed to the side or forgotten.”

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Mfume was surrounded by his wife, sons and grandchildren and the pastor of his church, New Shiloh Baptist. Larry Gibson, a political consultant and law professor who mentored Cummings and Mfume, spoke on his behalf.

Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council at age 31, winning by three votes. He succeeded retiring congressman Parren Mitchell in 1987 and served on Capitol Hill for about a decade, including a stint as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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At the NAACP, he was credited with restoring the financial stability of the organization and raising its profile. But he faced accusations of favoritism and romantic relationships with employees.

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On Monday, Mfume told reporters that he, a single man at the time, dated a single woman who also worked at the NAACP. He called it a “boneheaded mistake.”

Mfume narrowly lost the 2006 Democratic Senate primary to Ben Cardin.

Cummings’s widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who chairs the Maryland Democratic Party, said last week that she is seriously considering entering the race as well, as are a host of other Democrats.

The filing deadline is Nov. 20. A special primary election will be held Feb. 4, and the special general election will be held April 28, the same day of the 2020 primary.

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