Rally With a Retirement Twist
Curran to Campaign for O'Malley, Stay Out of Other Races

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 9, 2006; B02

More than 200 supporters crowded into a Baltimore hotel yesterday to cheer a politician who was no longer running for office: Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), retiring after 20 years as the state's top lawyer and nearly five decades in state politics.

Surrounded by his children and grandchildren, as well as friends waving signs reading "40 more years," Curran said he concluded that, at age 74, it was time to step down from political office.

"I'd rather it be said, 'Why did you leave too soon?' rather than, 'Why did you stay too long?' " Curran said. Standing at the lectern with his wife, Barbara, Curran flashed a victory sign and, during a long and resounding ovation, saluted and pointed to friends in the crowd at the Tremont Plaza Hotel.

Curran told reporters later that the only active campaigning he would do in the Democratic primary this year would be for his son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a candidate for governor. He said he intends to stay out of the race for his own seat. "There are so many qualified people out there, I think it's better to let the public make the decision," he said.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) said he is set to make an announcement Monday at several locations across the state but stopped short yesterday of formally declaring.

Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) likewise said that "we will be moving full-steam ahead" on a campaign, adding that he would announce this month.

Perez sent a letter yesterday to the attorney general's office requesting an advisory opinion on his eligibility for the office. The state constitution says only those who have practiced law in the state for 10 years are eligible for the office; Perez has been a member of the Maryland State Bar Association since 2001.

But he said he is "fully eligible" by virtue of his work as a federal prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department. "I handled numerous matters in Maryland between 1989 and 1994," Perez wrote in the letter.

Curran said yesterday that he believes both Gansler and Perez are qualified for the job but reserved his warmest praise for Prince George's County prosecutor Glenn F. Ivey (D), calling him "just a class act."

Ivey reiterated yesterday that he would run for reelection as state's attorney and would not seek the nomination for the statewide office. "It's tempting in some ways," Ivey said. "It's a powerful office that could be used to do many things for the people of Maryland."

Meanwhile, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, a Republican, is set to announce his candidacy today, with scheduled appearances with Gov. Robert L Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in Frederick, Rockville and Hunt Valley.

Curran's announcement drew polite praise from Ehrlich, who has accused the attorney general of playing politics with legal matters.

"J. Joseph Curran Jr. has been in public service for nearly fifty years as an air force pilot, state lawmaker, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General," Ehrlich said in a statement. "I commend him for dedicating nearly a half century to serving the citizens of Maryland."

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) -- a former governor, mayor of Baltimore and, at age 84, the dean of Maryland politicians -- added his own salute: "I want to wish Joe all the best during his retirement and thank him for his many years of dedicated and principled service to the people and government of Maryland.

"But for the life of me, I can't understand why such a young man would want to call it quits this early in his career."

Curran reflected yesterday on a career that took him from night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law to his election to the House of Delegates in 1958, the Maryland Senate in 1962 and lieutenant governor in 1982. In 1986, he was elected attorney general.

"This is the greatest job any lawyer could have," he said. "The attorney general's office is where it happens."

Curran said yesterday that his decision to retire had nothing to do with a possible conflict if O'Malley were elected governor and Curran, as attorney general, had to rule on legal issues involving his son-in-law. "There never would have been a conflict," Curran said. "Martin is a man of impeccable integrity."

O'Malley, his wife, Catherine Curran O'Malley -- a Baltimore District Court judge -- and their children were among family members and well-wishers who surrounded and hugged Curran after his announcement.

Curran said he would remain active in private law practice and might write a book about his life in Maryland politics and experiences with political figures, large and small. The story, Curran said, would relate "whatever really happened in that other century."

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