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Statement: Former Oversight Committee Staffer on the Death of Congressman Elijah Cummings
SACRAMENTO (October 17, 2019) – Today, Jimmy Fremgen, former Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, responded to the passing of Congressman Elijah E. Cummings.
“Congressman Cummings was one of the most relentlessly motivated people I have ever met. On Capitol Hill I often met people that would refer to their boss by their first name, out of abundant respect (and occasional fear), we simply called him, ‘the Congressman.’ I am forever grateful and honored that he was willing to take a chance on me as a young staffer and I will forever have his words ringing in my ear.
After spending time with numerous elected officials and Members of Congress, I truly began to see Mr. Cummings as a legendary figure in the House. Not just for his accomplishments, which were many, but for his ongoing commitment to fulfilling his constitutional role for his constituents and the country.”
ABOUT - Jimmy Fremgen served as Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Elijah E. Cummings from 2012 to 2016 handling Higher Education, Firearms Safety, Defense Policy, and Foreign Affairs policy areas. Following his time in Washington, Mr. Fremgen worked for the California State Assembly where he specialized in Cannabis policy. He is a native of Northern California and resides in Sacramento, California where he now owns a Catuli Consulting, providing public affairs consulting services to cannabis companies.
On August 1, 2019 Fremgen’s open letter to President Trump was published in USA TODAY. A copy of that letter and a link to the source are provided below.
The full letter is below.
USA TODAY: OPINION
Dear President Donald Trump, let me tell you about my ex-boss Elijah Cummings
Dear Mr. President,
Just over six years ago I was sitting in the gymnasium at Woodlawn Senior High School in Gwynn Oak, Maryland and I was very unhappy. You see, it was a weekend and as I’m sure you’d agree, I would have much preferred to spend the day playing golf. Instead, my boss had ordered his entire staff, myself included, to drive to this town outside Baltimore on a muggy 93-degree day to help run an event to prevent home foreclosures. I know you’re wondering who I worked for Mr. President, it was Elijah E. Cummings and it is safe to say that on this day, we would have had something in common, I really didn’t like him much.
I worked for Mr. Cummings both on his Capitol Staff and for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from August 2012 to February 2016. When he called me to offer the job, he was hard on me immediately, he told me that my salary was non-negotiable, that if I did something wrong that he would be sure to tell me, and that he expected me to meet the high standard that he keeps for himself and his staff.
What I quickly learned about him is that he is the same person on camera and off. The passionate soliloquies that he delivers from behind the Chairman’s podium in the Oversight hearing room are very similar to the ones that I often heard from the other end of the phone after he would run into one of his neighbors in the aisle of the grocery store back home. If someone came to him for help, he wouldn’t let any of his staff tell him it wasn’t possible, he’d push us for a solution and give his cell phone number to anyone who needed it – even when we wished he wouldn’t.
On March 4, 2015 then-Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa cut off Mr. Cummings microphone during his closing remarks, a massive break in decorum that left Cummings reading his statement aloud as the TV feed cut off. It hit cable news in seconds, and I remember coming back from a meeting to find every single person in the office answering phone calls. I joined them on the phones, enduring non-stop racist epithets, cursing, threats, and language that I had never imagined. I remember one vividly, a call from a Colorado area code on which an older female voice told me that Cummings better “sit down and shut up like the good boy someone should have taught him to be.” The phones rang this way for three days.
Sir, I won’t defend Baltimore, I’m not from there, and there are many that have already stood up to do so. Instead, let me correct you on one last thing: unlike almost every other member of Congress, Congressman Cummings goes home every night. Honestly, when I worked for him, sometimes I wished he wouldn’t. There were times when I would want him to attend an early morning meeting, take a phone call, or approve a document, and he couldn’t, because he’d be driving the 44 miles from his house in Baltimore to the Capitol.
During the protests after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, I couldn’t get a hold of Mr. Cummings. Governor Hogan had called in the National Guard and I was trying to relay an update about the soldiers that would soon be standing in the streets. It turned out that he was in the streets himself, marching arm-in-arm with community leaders, pastors, gang members, neighbors, anyone that was willing to peacefully protect his city. Bullhorn in hand he walked back and forth, urging people to be peaceful, to respect one another, to love each other, and to get home safely.
Mr. President, I know you are frustrated, I too have been dressed down for my own mistakes by Congressman Cummings. I know how rigorous he can be in his oversight, I agree, it can be extensive, but it certainly does not make him a racist.
Instead, let me offer this; I met you once in Statuary Hall of the Capitol and gave you my card, if you still have it, give me ring. I’d be happy to pass along Congressman Cummings’ cell phone number so the two of you can have a conversation. Or better yet, swing through the aisles of one of the grocery stores in West Baltimore, I’m sure anyone there would be willing to give it to you.