The office of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) announced early Thursday morning that the congressman has died due to complications concerning “longstanding health challenges.”
Cummings, who served as the chairman of the prestigious U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District for more than two decades. He was elected to his seat 12 times by overwhelming majorities, never receiving less than two-thirds of the vote.
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s widow, wrote in a statement. “He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
The 68-year-old congressman had recently undergone an undisclosed medical procedure but had not returned to Congress following the recess as anticipated.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Cummings skipped more roll call votes earlier this week, when recess concluded, and he has not participated in a roll call vote since September 11. Neither his office, nor Democratic leadership, would comment on his condition or expected return.
— Anne Kramer WBAL (@AnneKramerWBAL) October 17, 2019
Cummings was born in 1951 to a family of sharecroppers and Baptist preachers. He attended Baltimore City College high school, followed by Howard University, where he was elected student government president.
The Maryland lawmaker notably was inspired to become an attorney after watching the television series “Perry Mason” as a child.
“Many young men in my neighborhood were going to reform school,” he told the East Texas Review. “Though I didn’t completely know what reform school was, I knew that Perry Mason won a lot of cases. I also thought that these young men probably needed lawyers.”
Cummings received his J.D. from University of Maryland School of Law in 1976 and was admitted to the Maryland Bar later that year. He subsequently practiced law for nearly two decades before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
During the same time period, Cummings served in the Maryland General Assembly. While in the state legislature, he was not only Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, but also served as the Speaker Pro Tempore — he was the first African American to serve in that role in Maryland’s history. Cummings has since served on a number of state and local boards in and around Baltimore.
Cummings won his U.S. Congressional seat in 1996, but gained national attention in 2015 after he was selected to serve on the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi. The committee was tasked with investigating the events that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. As the committee’s ranking member, Cummings became then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief defender.
He was “the quintessential speaking-truth-to-power representative,” Herbert Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College told The Washington Post. “Cummings has never shied from a very forceful give-and-take.”
“Our heartfelt prayers go out to the family of Rep. Cummings, who generously shared his God-given gifts and talents [with] the people of his beloved city, state and nation for so many years,” the Baltimore Archdiocese said in a statement. “We give thanks for his dedicated service and pray for the repose of his soul.”
Cummings passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.