Back in the 1990s, Cummings told him to list his name as a reference on Taylor’s résumé when he applied to become a city trash hauler. He got the job.
Taylor said Cummings made an equally meaningful impression when rioting erupted in 2015 at this very intersection after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who had suffered fatal injuries in police custody. For several nights, the congressman was a fixture at the crossroads, using his own bullhorn to implore people to return home, even as some cursed and taunted him.
“I was out here, and it was good to see him on the front lines,” Taylor said. “He did the right thing. Mr. Cummings always did the right thing.”
As this city has endured a litany of political and police corruption scandals in recent years, Cummings, 68, distinguished himself as the rare local leader whom many residents felt they could still trust.
During crises, he had the capacity to express the city’s anguish with eloquence and passion, his presence a measure of reassurance to many who worried that chaos was overwhelming Baltimore.
His constituents expressed their loyalty at the ballot box, reelecting the congressman every two years since 1996. They were quick to defend him when President Trump in July belittled Cummings as an ineffectual leader who presided over a rat-infested district.
“We respected him,” said Chanda McDonald, 36, a West Baltimore mortician, sitting on a stoop with a friend near Pennsylvania and North avenues. “To have him out here during the rioting showed that he was trying to help us. It showed that he was for us, and that we needed to pull together.”
Cummings’s death early Thursday stunned a predominantly black city in which he had been a political leader since the early 1980s, first in the Maryland House of Delegates and then in Congress.
A local Baltimore radio station, WBAL, devoted hours of broadcast time to the news, with leaders calling in to express their sorrow.
“Babe! Elijah Cummings died!” Antonio Haire, 62, a retired machine operator, recalled telling his wife as he woke her up in their East Baltimore home.
“I feel like we lost a leader who spoke for us,” Haire said after eating lunch at Lexington Market. “He was a black politician, someone we could say, ‘Hey, there’s a chance for us.’ Someone our kids can look at and say, ‘Hey, I can do better — I don’t have to be someone who is washing windows with a squeegee.’ ”
A couple of tables over, Henry Jackson, 56, a procurement specialist, described Cummings as “one of the standing pillars in this city,” a leader who never lost his connection to the voters who elected him.
“This was his city,” Jackson said. “So many work here but don’t live here day-to-day. That he didn’t run off to his house in the hills speaks volumes to me.”
Cummings was a staple of Washington power circles, a regular on Sunday talk shows as he presided over the House Oversight Committee and helped represent the Democratic Party on the national stage. But he also commanded a prominent place in the day-to-day life of his hometown, where he was born in 1951, the son of sharecroppers who had migrated to the city from South Carolina.
Even as he dealt with presidents and senators in the nation’s capital, he kept a careful eye on what was happening in his city, whether it was how the Orioles or the Ravens were faring, or what was happening with a tightly contested mayor’s race or a political neophyte trying to win a council seat.
“We all kind of stand on his shoulders,” said state Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore City), adding that Cummings became a mentor for him after he met the congressman when introducing him as the guest speaker at his high school graduation more than two decades ago. “I always would sort of pinch myself that he would answer my calls.”
Cummings didn’t always tell Mosby what he wanted to hear. In 2011, the congressman advised him not to run for City Council, arguing that he had already lost a previous election. “He said, ‘You can’t lose again, you don’t want to become a loser,’ ” Mosby said.
Mosby ran and won, picking up Cummings’s endorsement just before the election.
At his victory party, Mosby recalled, the congressman pulled him aside and “was telling me how to set up my office, who I needed to call, and what I needed to do. I always thought it was cool how he would call me to get the temperature of the city.”
But the congressman often didn’t have to ask anybody. Until his death, he lived in West Baltimore, in an elegant red-brick rowhouse less than a mile from the intersection of Pennsylvania and North.
A man of seemingly modest tastes, Cummings liked to hold breakfast and lunch meetings at places such as at Jimmy’s, a well-known Fell’s Point diner. After the 2015 unrest, when he walked into the Village Square Cafe, another favorite haunt, patrons stood and gave him a standing ovation, said Robert Glick, the owner.
Cummings, he said, never wanted special treatment.
“He generally valued his privacy and was a gentleman,” Glick said.
Over the years, Cummings was a visible presence in his neighborhood, though he faded from view as his health deteriorated.
Darrine Timpson, 23, who grew up on the block where Cummings lived, recalled knocking on his door as a little boy, dressed as Batman for Halloween. The congressman gave him a handful of Tootsie Rolls.
By then, Timpson said, he had grown accustomed to seeing his neighbor on the television news, a recognition that a man from his neighborhood — a neighborhood with a long history of drug abuse and violence — had achieved great success and had the ears of mayors, governors and presidents.
“It’s just so unexpected,” he said of Cummings’s death. “My mind is blown.”
Barbara Fryson, 61, a retiree who lives a block away from the congressman’s home, said she often dropped notes inside his front door, advising him that “this block or that block needed cleaning up or that a school needed extra teachers.”
When she ran into him, she said, “He would stop and ask, ‘How you doing? Everything okay? How’s the neighborhood?’ If I told him about a problem, he’d say he’d look into it. It was comforting that he showed interest.
“He’s the one you remember the most because he always spoke up for us,” she said, her voice infused with sadness. “He was the city’s voice.”
In that moment, she said, it was hard to imagine who would now speak the words that seemed to come so easily to the congressman.