Kweisi Mfume arrives now like the second coming of the late Elijah Cummings. They echo each other politically and spiritually. They each spoke language of the human heart to heal the enduring American divisions of race and economics.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect candidate than Mfume to replace Cummings, the 7th district U.S. Congressman who died last month.
Yet I wish he wouldn’t.
There isn’t a person I’ve known, in half a century of writing about politics, who knows the street corners as well as he knows the political hearings rooms as Mfume does. He understands the real – and spiritual — hunger of the disadvantaged, as well as the egotism of those who sit in corporate boardrooms.
He is bilingual in street jargon and political double-speak, and calls it out when he sees it. When he eulogized Cummings a week ago at the huge, overflow gathering at New Psalmist Baptist Church, it was clear these were two men whose bonds connected over long years, and were tied politically, and by heart and soul.
Who could ask for a better successor as a congressman who comes out of the same West Baltimore working class struggles?
And yet, I wish Mfume had a more important announcement to make today, Nov. 4, 2019.
I wish he would run for mayor of all Baltimore, instead of congressman for West Baltimore and parts of Howard County.
The city needs someone special right now, and Mfume is the most special politician we have.
There are 535 U.S. Congressional representatives, whose voices overlap and often become a blur. Their power is divided into nibbles.
There’s only one mayor of Baltimore, a job that carries great political power – and the power of human passion and understanding.
Mfume, 71, came out of West Baltimore’s toughest kind of youth to become a City Councilman, a U.S. Congressman, and president of the NAACP. He was a high school dropout who went on to earn a Johns Hopkins masters degree.
It’s not enough that he might be the second coming of Elijah Cummings. He could be the second coming of Andrew Young
Remember Young? He was President Jimmy Carter’s United Nations ambassador who went on to become mayor of Atlanta. But Young reached beyond the borders of Atlanta because of his connections around the country – and around the world.
Mfume, with his years making connections as head of the national NAACP, his years raising money for that beleaguered organization, has made his own connections far beyond Baltimore.
As mayor of Atlanta, Young brought an estimated $70 billion in new private investment to his city.
That’s the kind of mayor Mfume could be – a man to heal the city emotionally while bringing new life financially.
So it’s easy to understand why many will cheer his announcement that he wants to take his old friend Elijah Cummings’ seat in congress.
But I wish he’d run for mayor instead. The city needs him more.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.