Curran To Conclude Generation Of Service
Md. Attorney General's Decision Adds to an Already Packed Ballot
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006; A01
J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), Maryland's longest-serving elected attorney
general, will not run again this fall, ending a nearly half-century
career in public office during which he emerged as a leading liberal
voice on issues of race, the death penalty and gun control.
Curran's decision not to seek a sixth term, shared in an interview
yesterday, adds additional drama to an already extraordinary election
year in Maryland.
Four statewide seats are now certain to be vigorously contested in
primaries in the heavily Democratic state -- a scenario unlike any in
recent decades and certain to yield younger officeholders succeeding
some lions of Maryland politics.
"As far back as I can look, this is unprecedented," said Terry Lierman,
chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.
The long-awaited decision by Curran, a member of one of Maryland's most
prominent extended political families, has been complicated by the bid
for governor by his son-in-law Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D).
A formal announcement is scheduled this morning at an event in
Baltimore that is expected to draw many of the nearly 400 state lawyers
that Curran oversees. His office is charged with providing legal advice
and representation to state agencies, from the governor's office on
"I thought maybe it's good to leave while you're still respected rather
than when people are asking you why you're still around," said Curran,
who will be 75 in July. "I feel very young, and I feel very good. I'd
like to do a few more things while time is permitted."
Curran said that he looks forward to returning to private practice and
that he might also write and lecture about some of the more turbulent
battles of the civil rights era and other parts of his time in politics.
Curran's career began in 1958, when, inspired by Sen. John F. Kennedy,
he sought and won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. Curran
later served in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor during the
second term of Gov. Harry R. Hughes (D). Curran won his first term as
attorney general in 1986.
During the early part of his career, Curran spoke out on several civil
rights issues before the stands were commonly accepted. He called for
striking Maryland's law against interracial marriage and for laws
requiring the sale of homes to people regardless of race.
Curran ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1968 as a single-issue
candidate calling for the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. He became
a firm advocate of gun control after a 1976 shooting rampage at
Baltimore City Hall, in which his father, a City Council member,
suffered a heart attack and later died.
Curran's tenure as attorney general included Maryland's involvement in
the national settlement with tobacco companies and a push for laws
expanding consumer rights and targeting sex offenders, including 2004
legislation that made it a crime to solicit a minor by computer.
Hughes said Curran is most likely to be remembered for his sense of
fairness. "He's got the utmost integrity," Hughes said. "There's not a
phony bone in his body."
The assessment from the current governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has
been less glowing. Ehrlich, Maryland's first GOP governor in a
generation, has questioned whether the advice provided by Curran's
office has been colored both by his partisanship and his relationship
with O'Malley -- a suggestion at which Curran recoiled yesterday.
Curran's announcement comes after a similar decision last year by Sen.
Paul S. Sarbanes (D), 73, which has produced a crowded field vying to
take on Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the likely Republican nominee, for
the open Senate seat.
Another long-serving Democrat, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, has
drawn two credible younger Democratic challengers this year, Anne
Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Montgomery County Del.
Schaefer, 84, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore, has long been
considered invincible. But some analysts are reassessing his
vulnerability after several controversial antics, including his
instruction this year to a 24-year-old female aide to "walk again"
while he stared at her backside during a public meeting.
O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are locked
in a primary battle for the right to challenge Ehrlich in November.
Curran said his decision to retire was not influenced by concerns that
have been raised about potential conflicts that could come with
representing his son-in-law's administration.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he
concluded after a recent conversation with Curran that Curran might
have run again if not for an overriding desire "to do what is best for
Two Montgomery politicians, State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and
County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) have been gearing up
to launch campaigns for attorney general in anticipation of Curran's
announcement. And other potential candidates might now give the race
Given the two contenders from the Washington area, many analysts say
the Democratic race could be attractive to a member of the Baltimore
legal establishment. On the Republican side, Frederick County State's
Attorney Scott L. Rolle, who had been looking at the race, has
scheduled an announcement for tomorrow.
Curran said he has no plans to endorse a successor.
With a little more than four months before the primary, Democratic
leaders were growing increasingly anxious as they awaited word of
Curran's reelection plans.
Curran said he had largely put the issue out of his mind during the
90-day legislative session, which concluded in mid-April, so he could
focus on initiatives being pushed by his office. Those included a bill
calling for increased supervision of sex offenders that died on the
final day of the session.
"We'll work on getting that through again next year," Curran said,
before correcting himself. "I'm sure the next attorney general and
governor will work on getting that through."
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