WASHINGTON – Maryland’s 7th District congressional race will be a “slam dunk” for Baltimore Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who political analysts say will easily win his fourth consecutive term.
But Joseph Ward said he is up for the challenge.
“I’m used to taking on bullies my whole life,” the 64-year-old Republican said.
Ward, who has never held political office, faces one of the state’s most highly favored incumbents in Cummings, who was re-elected in 2000 with 87 percent of the vote and in 1998 with 86 percent.
That was before the 7th District lost some minority voters in a redistricting that added about 75,000 new Howard County voters, who are mostly white and conservative, said Tom Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Even if the district is “not as safe” for Cummings, however, most believe it will be a safe Democratic seat for the next decade.
“Anything short of being declared the sniper, Cummings is not going to lose that seat,” said Frank DeFilippo, a political analyst for WBAL radio.
But Ward is running because he thinks “the government would be better if more working-class men and women were in government.”
The Hunting Ridge resident is an assistant supervisor at Pepco who has raised four children with his wife of 40 years, Carmen. He criticizes Cummings, who he said is “not a family man.” Cummings, who is separated, declined numerous requests for an interview for this article.
“All of my children are good children,” Ward said. “They are married, successful and responsible. Family is very important to me.”
Personal business aside, however, Cummings’ political experience dwarfs that of Ward, whose previous political forays are limited to failed bids for Baltimore City Council and Congress – a Democratic primary he lost to Cummings.
Cummings was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates when he won a special election in 1996 to succeed Kweisi Mfume, who left Congress to head the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. Cummings’ only real challenge was during that 1996 primary. He hasn’t looked back since.
“It doesn’t matter how competent you are, ultimately the way the district is drawn, (Ward) is going to be the next in a long of sacrificial lambs to Cummings,” Schaller said.
Supporters say voters in the majority-Democratic district have “a love affair” with Cummings.
“He is one of our shining lights,” said David Paulson, a Maryland Democratic Party spokesman. “He’s all about social empowerment, putting mechanisms in place for those who are struggling to find their way toward employment and productivity.”
Cummings’ progressive voting record this term earned him an “A” rating from the League of Conservation Voters, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and the Alliance for Retired Americans. The National Education Association gave him an “A+” for his 107th Congress voting record.
“Congressman Cummings has been very accessible and very supportive of public education,” said Randall Moody, the NEA manager of federal policy and politics. “We have recommended him for re-election to all of our members.”
Cummings voted last year for a bill that granted a $6.7 billion increase to public education, and against a bill that would have directed money to religious groups. But he supported the administration’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation that allotted money to schools with underprivileged children.
His aides tout Cummings’ work on crime and justice issues, noting that he arranged a visit to Baltimore by one of the nation’s “drug czars” to study how drug treatment can reduce crime. As a result, Cummings secured $2.5 million in federal funding for drug treatment in Baltimore City, an amount he said should increase to $224 million in fiscal 2003.
He is campaigning on a pledge of more federal aid for education more funds for housing and public transportation, and a comprehensive Patients’ Bill of Rights and Medicare-based prescription drug coverage.
Ward is also promising to get more funding for education, to address school overcrowding and what he called “deplorable” dropout rates in the district.
“It’s time to hold the Democrats accountable for failure of the schools system,” Ward said.
He said that “voting isn’t enough” for a congressman, and points to problems like overcrowding at Featherbed Lane Elementary School that has forced children into portable classrooms.
While a Maryland Department of Education spokesman agreed that overcrowding is a problem, he noted that Congress “does not provide a dramatic amount of money for school, it’s a state and local issue.”
Along with education, Ward will focus on reducing crime rates, particularly in Baltimore City. He said he plans to implement a program like the Texas Ranger Law Enforcement Program, a special unit of skilled officers who use martial arts to fight crime.
Ward’s platform also includes increasing job opportunities, attracting government agencies and private business to Baltimore City and improving transportation between the city and Washington, D.C. He also pledged to actively support veteran’s and senior citizens programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
But Ward faces long odds. Federal Election Commission reports said Cummings had raised $166,819.63 as of Oct. 15, while Ward did not raise the minimum $5,000 that triggers an FEC filing.
Ward’s campaign has raised money from the party and mutual friends, but his campaign manager “preferred not to say” how much money was on hand. “We are doing the best we can with the time and money we have,” David Tulfaro said.
Ward also faces the challenge of running as a former Democrat who switched parties after his 2000 primary loss to Cummings
“Party switchers tend to receive skepticism by members of the party they left and members of the party they joined who are weary of opportunists,” Schaller said.
But Ward said he was “never supported” by the Democratic Party, and now considers himself a proud conservative, campaigning with other Republicans.
“We are very supportive of Mr. Ward,” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “He has a record of service, not professional political experience, but military service and work in the private sector. He realizes that there does need to be a change and that there needs to be an economic infrastructure in place in the district.”
Ward has gone door-to-door, attended forums and made a few television appearances. He faced Cummings Wednesday in a televised debate on Maryland Public Television, but said he has been disappointed that Cummings would not otherwise debate him.
Aides said Cummings is “doing the job that he was hired to do and campaigning to the extent that he can.” Campaign spokesman Mike Christianson said that since June, Cummings has made about 15 appearances a week in the district, with extra attention to the new portions.
“Cummings is working it out in Howard County,” said Carol Arscott, of Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc. “He doesn’t have to spend a moment there to win but he does. He seems to be willing to learn and meet his district.”
He has also campaigned with other leading Democrats.
“He is the hardest-working person I’ve ever met. I’m a workaholic and he makes me look normal,” Christianson said.
Ward concedes he has a fight ahead of him. But when he needs motivation, he tells the story of the Johnnycake Elementary School basketball team he coached. In the last seconds of a tournament game, he took a chance and gave the ball to one of the weaker players on the team.
The player made the shot and won the game. Ward said both he and the player learned a valuable lesson from that game.
“You can’t always fight the weaker teams, sometimes you have to fight the stronger ones,” he said.