John Cummings, a high school government teacher and retired New York City police officer, is challenging Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress in 2020.
Cummings, who is also a sports broadcaster who does play-by-play for both radio and TV, formally entered the race for New York’s 14th congressional district on July 12.
Heavy.com spoke with Cummings over the phone about his candidacy.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. John Cummings Says His Students Encouraged to Him to Run for Office & He Plans to Make Education a Major Focus of His Campaign
John Cummings was born and raised in Parkchester in the Bronx and has been an educator in his home town for more than two decades. In 1998, he began teaching at his alma mater, the Saint Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx. Cummings teaches history, government, and economics at the Catholic school. In addition to his teaching duties, Cummings also serves as the cantor during school Masses.
Cummings has explained that his students have encouraged him to run for Congress for several years. But Cummings held off on doing so because he believed it would have been impossible to defeat Rep. Joe Crowley, who represented New York’s 14th district for 20 years before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted him in a primary challenge in 2018. Cummings says Crowley’s defeat showed him he should take the chance to run. Cummings said he will continue to work as a full-time teacher this upcoming school year.
Cummings says education will be a major focus of his campaign. In a phone interview with Heavy.com, he explained that he believes parents need to have more freedom to choose which school their child attend. “I really think there needs to be competiton. I know the left has primarily been strongly against charter schools and vouchers for low-income people. My thing is, if the schools are not succeeding, why should generation after generation of children be tracked in failing schools?”
On for-profit charter schools, Cummings added, “If I’m a parent, and I’m not doing well economically, and I have a chance to send my son or daughter to one of those schools, then I don’t care that people are making money off of it if they’re producing really good students. To me, education is the great equalizer and it should be the civil rights cause of the 21st century, that everyone has access to a great education.”
Cummings says he also thinks there needs to be more schools devoted to vocational training, as well as vocational crafts offered at high schools.
2. Cummings Says He Feels New York’s 14th District Has Often Been ‘Ignored’ By Lawmakers After They Head to Capitol Hill
John Cummings explained in the phone interview with Heavy that if elected to Congress, he would make it a priority to be as visible as possible in his home district. He accused former Rep. Joe Crowley of being an “absentee guy.”
He also accused Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of failing to inform her constituents about what she is working on. “She’s done a great job establishing a national profile but I think that results in a lack of local interest… I understand that sometimes it’s difficult to get back, but you really need to keep your feet in the neighborhood to know what’s going on.”
Cummings touched on federal issues he wants to focus on that would benefit New York’s 14th district. For example, he talked about a plan to give Metro North trains the right-of-way on the Amtrak lines and build four stations in the Bronx. “This would be a game-changer for us and we really haven’t heard anything about it… I haven’t heard the congresswoman say anything about it.”
Cummings also talked about wanting to build more rest stops along the Cross Bronx Expressway so that truck drivers have a place to park their vehicles, especially after getting stuck in traffic for long lengths of time. He explained that right now, “truckers end up pulling off onto side streets and service roads. It doesn’t help with our traffic situation and no one likes to see trucks parked next to the park… I don’t blame them at all, but that’s soemthing that needs to be addressed. We need to at least give the truckers, who are an important part of our economy, a spot to go.”
Cummings touched on the ongoing renovations at LaGuardia Airport. He said he wants to see “the establishment of ferries running from the Bronx over to the airport, and long-term parking on the Bronx side.” Cummings says this “would alleviate a lot of the traffic problems in Queens and parking issues over at LaGuardia. Those are things that are federal that we could easily look at and could be addressed.”
3. Cummings Says He is Confident He Can Compete in the Largely-Democratic District By Focusing on Issues & Promoting the Fact That He Has Lived in the District His Entire Life
John Cummings is very well aware that New York’s 14th district has not been represented by a Republican since 1993. But he’s confident he would be able to compete due to the fact that he has lived in the district since birth and is very well-known because of his role as a broadcaster, teacher, and former police officer.
Cummings says he believes local politics are not always about party affiliation. “New Yorkers are sharp. They’ll identify very quickly that I am one of them. My interest is with the district and with the people who live in the district because I am one of those people,” Cummings said. “I think in a local election, people will cross the line and say, ‘this guy has been here his whole life. He knows what the problems are, he has some ideas to confront them and maybe he can actually go do something.’ I think that’s something that can work… and I know a lot of people. I was a police officer, I’m a teacher, I’ve done private security, and I do the basketball and I sing. So I’m in and around and I know a lot of people and they all say, ‘you know what? People will accept you simply because of the fact that you’re one of them, regardless of the party affiliation.'”
According to Census Bureau data, New York’s 14th district is a diverse, largely working class area. 48 percent of its residents are of Hispanic lineage (compared to 24 percent white) and the median income is about $58,000. Cummings explained in the phone interview that the district’s demographic makeup influences his politics, especially when it comes to economic issues.
Cummings has expressed concern over certain policy issues touted by some Democrats, such as Medicare for All, free college tuition and the Green New Deal. His concern is that taxes would eventually be raised on lower-income Americans in order to pay for the programs. He thinks an extra tax on the wealthiest Americans would not be enough in the long run. “That percentage of wealthy people’s money that they want to take is going to run out very quickly. And then you have to look somewhere for the money. And the working class would be next in line.”
On a separate note, Cummings said that his goal is to run a campaign based on issues and not have it be about attacks. “I’m zeroed in on sticking to the issues… I’m not one of those angry guys that you see on TV screaming about AOC. That’s not me. She got elected, we have huge disagreements on policy, and that should be enough. I’m not here to throw bombs.”
Heavy.com also spoke with the former athletic director of Fairfield University, Gene Doris, who hired Cummings and has known him for more than 30 years. He reiterated that Cummings is not one to launch personal attacks, and praised Cummings for an ability to connect with others. “Knowing John as I’ve known him, John can cross a lot of barriers and a lot of lines. Obviously being in sports, he has been connected to male and female student athletes of all different cultures and different races and interacted extremely well with them,” Doris said. “I think as a politician, I think he would have a pretty good sense of how to play in that spectrum in terms of bringing issues to the floor that his constituents would want him to.”
4. John Cummings is a Retired New York City Police Officer
John Cummings made the decision early on that he wanted to serve his community, just like his father had, as a New York City Police officer. He attended the NYC Police Academy and earned his badge in 1983.
Cummings’ time on the force included an assignment to the Neighborhood Stabilization Unit 7 in the South Bronx, which covered the 40, 42, 44, and 48 precincts. He later patrolled the 46th district for two years. Cummings also served on the NYPD Harbor Unit, like his father before him had.
Cummings was forced to retire in 1991 after suffering a serious knee injury in the line of duty. He said he would have been a career officer if he had not gotten hurt. “The Harbor Unit is an elite unit… it’s part of emergency services. We did anti-terrism work, I was machine-gun trained and a qualified sniper. I did the whole thing.”
Cummings said he feels his experience as a police officer impacted his outlook on life and would have influenced him no matter what career path he had chosen afterward. “When I retired, New York City was doing over 2,000 murders per year. I saw a lot of things. And that changes you. I think it really depends on who you are as to whether it changes you for the better or for the worse. And I choose to use it for the better,” Cummings said. “You’re always counting your blessings. I try to enjoy things, enjoy people, you try to help them out. It’s been a life of service, eight and a half as a police officer and then 21 years as a teacher. It’s a life of service, and that’s what Congress would be as well.”
5. Cummings Has Been a Sports Broadcaster Since the Early 1990s & Also Loves to Sing
John Cummings returned to college after retiring from the police force. He graduated from Fordham University in 1993. He began a broadcasting career while still a student. Cummings worked for the radio station WFUV-FM, which is owned by Fordham, providing play-by-play and game analysis for basketball and football games. He worked under Marty Glickman, the famous radio announcer known for calling New York Knicks, Giants and Jets games. Cummings also wrote about sports for the Fordham Observer newspaper and co-hosted the radio call-in show “One On One.”
Cummings is a well-known figure at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He has been a play-by-play broadcaster for the past two decades. He’s the lead voice for women’s basketball games. Cummings celebrated his 25th anniversary with the school in March of 2019.
Cummings’ love of sports includes spending time on the field as well. He has been a Little League baseball coach and an elementary school basketball coach.
Cummings’ experience in front of a microphone also includes singing. He’s been known to sing the national anthem at Fairfield University basketball games, specifically on senior night. In the phone interview with Heavy, he explained that he has also performed in other languages. Last year, a Fairfield player from Canada asked him to sing the Canadian national anthem at a game, and to sing half of it in French.
But Cummings said a special request for the 2019 team was a bit more difficult than French. He was asked to sing the national anthem of Senegal because that was the home country of one of the players. “I learned the melody and I spelled it out phonetically and I sang it,” Cummings said. “They hung up the Senegalese flag in the rafters of the gym and then I sang, and she was in tears… I think she was just overcome by the emotion of it because she didn’t know I was going to do it.”
Cummings also jams with a classic rock band called Tim Curtin & Friends every other week. Cummings said he’s known Curtin for five decades and that they played Little League together as children. Cummings hopes to continue to sing with the band on a bi-monthly basis throughout the campaign. He identified Led Zeppelin as his favorite rock band to listen to.
On a family note, Cummings is the father of two grown sons. Nicholas, 26, pursued a career in software engineer. Matthew, who was about to turn 24 at the time of the interview, went into finance.