Not since the funeral of Freddie Gray had there been so many cameras in the parking lot of the New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore.
But in the wake of President Trump’s relentless attacks against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a previously planned bipartisan meeting of faith leaders that involved Rev. Al Sharpton and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele became national news.
“Mr. President, come on down to the streets we are ready for you,” said Steele, Maryland’s former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the first black to chair the RNC. “Put down your tweet and come to Baltimore.”
Steele joined more than 100 pastors for the Monday meeting in West Baltimore planned by Republican operatives that included officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Jimmy Kemp, son of former Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp.
Steele, Sharpton, Republican strategist Elroy P. Sailor and officials from the NAACP and Rainbow Coalition were all part of the meeting that drew dozens of media organizations.
Sharpton, who has also drawn Trump’s ire in the Baltimore dust-up, said he wasn’t worried about the president’s attacks.
“I have known him for 25 years and I not worried about him calling me a troublemaker,” he said. “I was a troublemaker against him with the Central Park 5. I was a troublemaker against him with the birther movement.”
Trump, apparently angered by Cummings’ criticism of border conditions for migrants seeking asylum, tweeted over the weekend that Cummings’ 7th Congressional District “is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” and “If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”
In another tweet, Trump said “If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership. His radical ‘oversight’ is a joke!
Trump’s outburst also came in the wake of the House Oversight Committee, which Cummings chairs, voting to subpoena personal emails and texts of top administration aides, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
For his part, Cummings has limited his response to a tweet back to Trump.
“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors,” Cummings tweeted. “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
But Monday, a chorus of voices spoke about the issue, including Rev. Harold B. Carter, who said that he has worked for years to improve and renovate housing in Baltimore.
Carter, pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church, hosted the ministers meeting and said regardless of what plans materialize, things are already happening in his community.
“In the midst of all that has happened is that good things are happening,” Carter said. “This is an oasis in the city of Baltimore. Regardless of what anybody says, there is a new family life center across the street, Coppin State is expanding, Douglas High School has a new track field and there are two new apartment buildings across the street.”
Gov. Larry Hogan responded to Trump’s tweets Monday on “The C4 Show” on WBAL-AM radio, calling the comments “outrageous and inappropriate” but stressing that the focus should be on working together.
“What I care about is the city of Baltimore and fixing the problems,” the Republican governor said. “It is the heart of our state. It is the lifeblood of Maryland. People are just completely fed us with this kind of nonsense. Let’s stop the tweeting and get things done.”
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford also posted a response against Trump’s tweets:
“Mr. President, I have substantial policy differences with Congressman Cummings. However, I hope your criticism is not directed at the many good and hardworking people who live in the district.”
Other Cummings supporters and Baltimore residents have also spoken out against Trump’s attacks.
“Any third-grader reading that would know that’s inappropriate for somebody’s who’s supposed to be sitting in the title of leader,” Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore) told CNN.
Staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this story.