By TERESA LO
Capital News Service
PHILADELPHIA – Three prominent Marylanders — former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer — each preached party unity as featured speakers on the first night of the Democratic National Convention Monday.
“I hail from the great state of Maryland, where Democrats have shown when we all come together as one, we win more, bigger and better victories faster,” Jealous told cheering delegates.
That was after yet another prominent Maryland official, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, opened the convention, stepping in for the embattled chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
“I hereby call the 47th quadrennial Democratic National Convention to order,” Rawlings-Blake said during short welcoming remarks.
Cummings is chairman of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, and under his leadership, the committee has held numerous public hearings to craft what the party has called the most progressive platform in its history.
A Baltimore resident, Cummings has represented Maryland’s 7th District since 1996. He has advocated for the rights of those facing foreclosure and is leading an effort to strengthen the curriculum at the Maritime Industries Academy in his home city.
Hoyer, of Mechanicsville, represents Maryland’s 5th District. He is the second-most powerful Democrat in the House and has co-sponsored many bills to protect the Chesapeake Bay and been active on numerous pieces of environmental legislation.
Jealous, a Baltimore native, was the youngest national leader of the NAACP for four years before stepping down in 2013. He has been a longtime advocate of black rights and marriage equality.
Jealous originally supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but is now endorsing Hillary Clinton.
Hoyer was the first Maryland native to speak, contrasting the Republican and Democratic platforms.
The Republican Party’s message to the American people was “you’re on your own,” he said, whereas the Democratic Party’s message is “we’re in this together.”
Hoyer then encouraged voters to “bind together as a country and elect Hillary the president of the United States of America.”
Later on the stage, Cummings drew on his father’s words: “The test of a man is not how much he helps himself, the true test is whether he helps those less fortunate.” The Democratic Party, he said, has passed this test.
Cummings highlighted the Democratic Party’s platform on the Affordable Care Act, civil rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
“Our party does not believe, but understands, that black lives matter,” he said to enthusiastic applause and chants of “Black Lives Matter” from the crowd. “But we also recognize that our communities and our law enforcement work best when they work together.”
Throughout his speech, Cummings consistently mentioned “our Democratic Party” to draw implicit comparisons to the Republican National Convention last week, which was marked by dissension after some “Never Trump” delegates disrupted the convention calling for a roll call vote, and former candidate Ted Cruz failed to endorse the nominee in a high-profile convention speech.
“Ours is a party of unity and not division,” he said.
Cummings also gave a nod to Sanders’ platform by mentioning the wealthy 1 percent and the middle, working class. His statements could be heard over the crowd chanting “down with TPP” along with boos from Sanders supporters expressing their dissatisfaction with a Clinton nomination.
Jealous, the last Marylander to take the stage, reminded his listeners about recent, progressive legislation in Maryland: abolishing the death penalty, passing marriage equality, decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession and passing gun safety reform.
He urged voters to join the Democratic Party at the ballot box to make college more affordable, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and move energy away from coal and gas toward wind and solar.
“We will move America forward,” Jealous said, “to become the most perfect example of the unity and dignity of the human family that the world has ever seen.”