The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Elijah Cummings was a giant among legislators

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2008. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Few members of Congress command respect across the aisle and across the chambers. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) was one. In the House and Senate, he was a sought-after legislative partner — a seal of approval. Members refer to one another as gentlemen and gentlewomen, but Elijah Cummings was truly the Gentleman from Maryland.

When he spoke, you listened. He was a peacemaker; he put that into action by building friendships and relationships across untraditional lines. He could silence a critic with scripture and rev up a crowd with his booming voice. At get-out-the-vote rallies, he would remind us to “Bring Lottie, Dottie and everybody.” The crowd would roar.

When I was first elected to Congress in a special election, it was Elijah who welcomed me. As I sat in his office, I remember the moment when my nerves turned to gratitude. We didn’t talk about politics or about Congress. We talked about family, about roots and about community. He adored his mother, and he asked about mine. He let me know that I belonged.

Elijah will be remembered as a giant among legislators. But at his core, he never forgot for what and whom he fought and why. Families. The kid on the corner. Low-cost prescription drugs. Affordable housing. Children’s dental care. In almost every public speech or private conversation, he would remind us of our responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. At the height of the foreclosure crisis that hit my district and Elijah’s harder than anywhere else in Maryland, Elijah and I forged a partnership on the bank bailout legislation known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It was because of his leadership that we were able to hold out until concessions were made to guarantee some of that $700 billion would help homeowners who were harmed.

Maryland is a small state, but its regions can seem far apart. Elijah Cummings was Baltimore, but he was known, respected and beloved across our state. He lived in his community, and he was proud of his neighbors. In the aftermath of the tragic death of Freddie Gray, his words and presence in his community were what helped to bring calm to the streets.

I hope we can keep Elijah’s voice whispering to us that the work of public servants is for “generations yet unborn.”

Read more:

The Post’s View: As long as he had breath, Elijah Cummings spoke out

Colbert I. King: Elijah Cummings was the keeper of the nation’s conscience

Gillian Brockell: A white mob attacked Elijah Cummings for integrating a swimming pool. He was 11.

‘A giant of integrity and knowledge has fallen’: Washington reacts to the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings

Joe Scarborough: Elijah Cummings did more than serve Baltimore. He gave hope to the hopeless.

Karen Tumulty: The fleeting moment of decency in Washington over Elijah Cummings