Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) hosted two sessions last week – the first addressing the political power of Black millennials and the second examining the gap between Blacks and whites in organ donations during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.’s 46th Annual Legislative Conference in Northwest.
Near the end of the first discussion, the Rev. Tony Lee described what happened when Edwards attended an election watch party several years ago, addressing his comments to her.
“At that point we didn’t have the thousands of members we have now. We never forgot that,” said Lee, 48, senior pastor of Community Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights. “It shows you weren’t too big to be with working-class and no-class folks. You will always be a blessing.”
Edwards, serving in her fourth term on Capitol Hill, will complete some of her final duties in the 4th Congressional district that includes portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties before her term expires in January. She lost in a heated Democratic primary in April against Montgomery County resident and House colleague Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) in her efforts to replace the retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Some colleagues and other politicians including D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said Edwards surrendered her seat at a time when she had a major influence in Congress and within her party.
“She’s one of the most valuable members of the House we are losing,” Norton said. “She was on her way up the ladder. I can understand why she ran for the Senate. She made a huge sacrifice.”
Edwards, 58, stands by her decision to run for Senate with a focus on the lack of people of color. She sought to become the first Black woman in that chamber to represent Maryland and the first in more than two decades.
“There are a lot of things we do that some people could describe as risks. I looked at it as an opportunity to carry some of the issues I have carried into the House of Representatives into the United States Senate,” she said during a phone interview Monday, Sept. 19.
“Our U.S. Senate is lacking in the kind of diversity that we need to bring forward with issues that are important to communities. I believe that my candidacy reflected an opportunity to bring those issues forward.”
In the meantime, she plans to continue working on projects and other community initiatives that include her eighth annual College and Career Fair on Oct. 15 at Oxon Hill High School, located in the congresswoman’s neighborhood.
So far, about 150 schools will participate with several thousand middle and high school students expected to attend. She hopes her successor will continue the fair. Many believe she will be succeeded by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown who took the Democratic primary for Edwards’ open seat.
She also discussed the ongoing controversies at Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Edwards said an independent investigation should be conducted in light of former Head Start employees being accused of corporal punishment, neglect and abuse in separate incidents occurring last year. The school system now has a temporary provider who will manage the program this year.
The school system also continues to deal with allegations of a school bus aide who abused special needs children. The father of a 4-year-old boy spoke pointedly about the situation last week in front of the administration building in Upper Marlboro.
On Monday, Edwards criticized County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who supported Van Hollen in the primary election. His office has the power to appoint school board members.
“I don’t think the county executive can duck on this. I do think the buck stops with him,” she said. “I find it unbelievable that our leadership seems to be standing on the side of those adults who are in the system . . . instead of standing on the side of students.”
She hasn’t determined what she’s do next but said she wants to continue in some form of public service – something she’s being doing for about 30 years since graduating from the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
After her term expires Jan. 2, the single-mother of one son plans to rent an RV and travel to national parks across the country and trace behind some of those landmarks.
“I have really enjoyed my time in Congress,” she said. “It has been one of the greatest fulfillments that I’ve had. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m going to figure out afterwards how I’m going to continue to move things that I’ve been committed to my entire life.”