Looking for a Change, Democrats Elect Rockeymoore Cummings as Party Chair

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings accepts congratulations from fellow Democrats seconds after being elected state chairwoman. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Following a tense Saturday morning balloting session, Maryland Democrats elected a new party leader, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings — rebuking the favorite of the party establishment, Kathleen Matthews, who had served as chairwoman for the past two years and who oversaw a 2018 coordinated campaign that delivered for down-ballot candidates but left the governorship in Republican hands.

The vote, taken at a union hall in Lanham, was 438-319.

Cummings campaigned for the post noting dissatisfaction with the outcome of the gubernatorial race ― Republicans have now won three of the last five in the state ― and a promise to bring more inclusiveness to the state party organization. She pledged to create a state party platform and a permanent candidate academy.

Cummings also committed to dedicate resources to rural areas, to rebuild the party there, including to subsidize year-round organizers, host quarterly town halls and run a Democrat in every race.

Cummings was nominated by Howard County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Maureen Evans Arthurs, who noted in a nominating speech that the county’s delegation would unanimously support Cummings’ bid. The nomination was seconded by Sheila Ruth, a Baltimore County activist and current chair of the party’s Progressives Leadership Council.

“Ever since Doug Jones won a victory in Alabama with 98 percent of black women voting for him, I’ve heard many Democrats say that black women will save us,” Ruth said.

“But it’s not enough to rely on back women’s votes and black women’s labor if we don’t also elect them to lead,” Ruth added, drawing a rousing round of applause.

Matthews won all but one vote from Montgomery County, where she lives. Cummings attracted widespread support in Prince George’s and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City, where she lives. Rural delegations also lent their support: representatives from Cecil, Frederick and Garrett counties all unanimously supported Cummings’ bid.

The party chairmanship is chosen by votes from county central committee members, which are weighted based on the size of the county’s central committee membership and the county’s Democratic performance in prior elections.

In an election speech and in presentations before that, Matthews and others had underscored successes in 2018, including the number of new and diverse Democratic candidates elected throughout the state, creating a deep bench for potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the future, while Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s clipped coattails left the Republican party’s future candidates diminished.

“A blue wave is a one-time-only event. A tide is something that is enduring and sustaining. A reliable blue tide is what we need to invest in,” Matthews said.

Cummings expanded on the analogy.

“We have to not have a tide that can ebb and flow. We have to go deep. We have to go very deep, in terms of building the infrastructure of this party down to the precinct level,” Cummings said.

After the final votes were tallied, Matthews made a motion to accept Cummings as the party’s new chair by acclamation and welcomed the new chairwoman to the dais, sharing a hug as Cummings took over for the rest of the election.

Cummings, a policy consultant, lives in Baltimore. She briefly ran for governor in 2018, but withdrew from the race after her husband, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), was hospitalized. She will serve a four-year term.

Matthews, a former Marriott executive and journalist, has run the state party since 2017, following an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016. In a presentation Saturday, party officials said they reached out to Democratic voters more than 3.9 million times during the 2018 election and had the most successful year for fundraising so far since 2010.

The other Democrats elected to party leadership on Saturday were:

First vice-chair: Sen.-elect Cory McCray (Baltimore City), who has spent a term in the House of Delegates and was aligned with Matthews in the party leadership fight.

Second vice-chair: Allison Galbraith (Eastern Shore), who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the 1st congressional district this year.

Third vice-chair: Nicole Williams (Prince George’s County), who ran unsuccessfully for a House of Delegates seat this year.

Secretary: Robbie Leonard (Baltimore County), the former chairman of the county Democrats who narrowly lost a state Senate election this year.

Deputy Secretary: Abena McAllister (Southern Maryland), chairwoman of the Charles County Democrats

Treasurer: Bob Kresslein (Western Maryland), the party’s longtime treasurer

Deputy Treasurer: Jeffrey Slavin (Montgomery County), the mayor of Somerset who has been a top leader of the state party in a variety of positions

[email protected]ylandmatters.org

Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines covered government and politics for Maryland Matters for two years before moving into an editing position. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post ― as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at The Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.


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