“No!” exclaimed Shauntee Daniels, the executive director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, throwing her head back in dismay at learning the news. “I’m so sorry to hear that. He was absolutely loved by the people he represented. He understood the benefit of preserving Baltimore’s history for current generations and future generations.”
Daniels recalled meeting Cummings, who died suddenly on Thursday at 68, at an National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dinner in 2014. “He reminded me of a wise father figure. He wasn’t in it for the politics; he was in it for the people. You could see he really cared about Baltimore.”
Others noted how Cummings had risen to national significance, particularly during Donald Trump’s presidency. In July Trump derided Baltimore as “a disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess”, that “no human being would want to live there”. Cummings’ black majority district covers most of the city.
Helen Atkinson, an educational consultant, said: “It’s an awful loss in our effort to push back against Trump. It makes me think about what he said to push back against Trump.” She cited Cummings’ recollection of having told Trump: “Mr President, you’re now seventysomething, I’m sixtysomething. Very soon you and I will be dancing with the angels. The thing that you and I need to do is figure out what we can do – what present can we bring to generations unborn?’”
Atkinson added: “I think it’s a big blow for Baltimore. Most importantly right now, it’s national policies that matter. He was representing us in Baltimore but also in an incredibly important job on the House oversight committee.”
Other residents told how Cummings touched their lives. Tony Jernigan, 47, a taxi driver and e-commerce trader, said: “My 16-year-old son texted me to say he died, so he was the kind of person the younger generation were sensitive to.
“He was a big voice, a big personality, very young to be dying. For a politician, he seemed to be a genuine guy. He was about the disadvantaged person and the working class. He had his beef with Trump but he was always there on the frontline. He was seen around the city.”
Cummings will be difficult to replace in a defiant city steeped in history. Enrica Jang, the executive director of the Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum, said: “He was very beloved here and will be missed. When someone so charismatic passes away, there’s a vacuum and a void there. It’s such a precarious time and how can you find people to step into his shoes?”
There were tributes in the Baltimore Sun newspaper. The columnist Dan Rodricks wrote: “Baltimore could be so much better than it is, he said, if we could just get the schools up to speed, just get more kids into summer jobs, find employment for ex-offenders coming home from prison. He sponsored job fairs every year. He used to call me to suggest subjects for the column, and they were always about people or programs that were already quietly trying to make Baltimore a better city.”
And David Simon, an author, journalist and the creator of The Wire, tweeted: “I remember Elijah Cummings as a delegate from the 39th District in the General Assembly, a junior member of the old Mitchell organization. He outlasted that machine and so many other ambitious politicians and he did it by being a good man and a committed civil servant. Sad day.”