In the 1990s I lived and had a dental practice in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. A dentist who was a friend asked me to join our local dental association. My friend was looking for Republican voting dentist to work on the Maryland dental association’s political action committee (MADPAC) to provide some balance to its membership.
As a member of MADPAC I was assigned to attend political meetings where I could meet local officials. At two different meetings I met my Congressman; Elijah Cummings. I believe the first meeting was not long after Congressman Cummings was appointed to congress after his predecessor, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, left congress to be the national head of the NAACP.
Rep. Cummings was a great conversationalist. I remember discussing some of my concerns about health care in our community. I think Rep. Cummings quickly figured out I was a conservative. Even with our difference of opinions, we had a great discussion. I remember he was an excellent listener; he was friendly and approachable. He also gave me positive feedback during our discussion.
Congressman Cummings served in Maryland’s 7th district from 1996 until his death recently. Before serving 23 years in congress, he served 14 years as a state legislator.
While he served as a congressman, parts of Maryland’s 7th congressional district spun down into a cycle of crime and despair.
Maryland’s 7th district by design is a “minority-majority” district. It includes most of Baltimore City. Take a look at a map of Maryland’s 7th congressional district. It has an illogical shape. The most recent redistricting of 2013 leaves it looking like an angry dog barking down into a pool of water. The district’s main purpose is not to gather citizens of like concerns. It is not about a district that makes sense geographically. The priority in the design of Maryland’s 7th district is to make certain it remains “majority-minority” district.
Maryland is a democratic state, one of the blue-est of the blue. The 7th district has been represented only by democrats since the seat was founded in 1950. Some conservative voting areas have been attached to Maryland’s 7th district. While the state delegates who voted on the new congressional districting map said including these conservative voting areas makes sense, the votes in these areas are overwhelmed by the minority voters in north-east and west Baltimore City who typically vote for democrats.
I write about this because the results of a one-party management of Baltimore are so disheartening. In an article published in the American Journal of Medicine in January 2019 the authors looked at murder rates in Baltimore City and compared them with murder rates in 4 boroughs in New York City. The US Centers for Disease Control ranked these New York boroughs roughly equal to Baltimore in size, racial makeup and income. The results show in the number of murders in the general population in both cities have dropped since 1979. Something different was seen when the researchers looked at the murder rate in the black community. In 1979 the murder rate in both black communities were roughly the same for New York and Baltimore. By 2016, the picture was quite different. In 2016 the murder rate in the black community in New York was less than 10 per 100,000 people. In Baltimore the rate more than 70 deaths per 100,000!
Of course, a problem like violent crime has many causes. I think one of the major causes is a long-standing one-party majority. Elijah Cummings served as an elected representative for almost 40 years. Near the end of his life he had to ride a wheelchair around the capital because he lacked the strength to walk. His health was failing.
Each member of congress represents about 700,000 people. Our founders thought the House of Representatives should be the People’s House. In our country we have decided we are not well served by a president who holds office for a lifetime. Similarly, I believe lifelong congressional representatives do not serve their constituents as well as they serve their party.
Our country needs a constant resupply of new ideas and new thinking to tackle the problems we face. Maryland’s 7th congressional district is an excellent example of what can happen when one party is in control of district and a state for too long.
Elijah Cummings was a company man. He served the democratic party for almost 40 years. His congressional seat was designed to be safe for a democratic incumbent. He was friendly, approachable and a good listener. While he served in the state house and in congress, his district suffered. Murder rates skyrocket, jobs and citizens left Baltimore and the bright vitality of a great city was diminished.
Douglas Wright is a dentist who lives and works in Rockingham County.