From the Baltimore Sun

Amid shower of affection, Curran says his goodbyes
Longtime attorney general not to seek re-election
By Jennifer Skalka
Sun reporter

May 9, 2006

It was more than a graceful exit speech.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s announcement yesterday that he was retiring from elected office was packed with personal expressions of gratitude to the staff that had long served him, as well as a humble "thank you" for the chance to hold for two decades the state's top legal job -- an opportunity he said he had never dreamed possible when he was a young man attending law school at night at the University of Baltimore.

There was talk of the nostalgia he expects to have for the bull roasts and crab feasts of his campaign days and of the affection he will always have for the people of Maryland and Baltimore, in particular.

It was the kind of goodbye that, those who heard it said, can renew faith in politics and politicians.

"I mean it from the bottom of my heart, and I know what you know, this is the greatest job any lawyer could have," said Curran, Maryland's longest-serving elected attorney general.

"We've always tried to give a voice to those who, quite frankly, have lacked a voice," Curran said. "Children at risk, vulnerable seniors, victims of family violence and those who have special challenges to overcome. Thank you very much for working on their behalf. I'm satisfied that your work has made their lives better."

With his wife, Barbara, by his side and their children and grandchildren standing nearby, Curran, 74, told about 200 people gathered in a grand function hall of a former Masonic temple in Baltimore that he was ready to move on to other things after five terms. There was little mention of Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial bid or the potential conflicts of interest that would likely have been raised should Curran have sought re-election; the attorney general advises the governor on legal matters.

Instead, Curran, a former lieutenant governor and state senator, said he has reached "a wonderful time of life" and that he is looking forward to baby-sitting his grandchildren and maybe writing a book about his half-century in public life, which included work to strike the state's ban on interracial marriage and support for Medicaid funding for abortion, among other controversial stances. He said, however, that he will make time for O'Malley's campaign.

"I think I'm going to be involved in one more election," he said smiling, as the mayor looked on.

Contenders for the position are already making their intentions known. Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, a Republican who has the backing of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has scheduled a campaign announcement today, and Democrat Douglas F. Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, said his is coming next week.

Montgomery County Councilman Thomas F. Perez, a Democrat, is also running, even as questions loom about whether he has practiced law in the state for the 10 years required by the state constitution. Political observers also predict that a Baltimore-area candidate will emerge.

Curran's decision not to run, a matter of great speculation in state political circles over the past several months, did not come as a surprise to those in attendance yesterday. Still, those interviewed expressed great sadness to see him go. One supporter said Curran's announcement was almost funereal because his absence would be felt daily by his staff, some of whom had been with him since he took office in 1987.

"I think we'd all like to see him be attorney general forever," said Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general and counsel to the General Assembly who has worked in the office for 31 years.

Catherine Curran O'Malley, Curran's daughter and a Baltimore District Court judge, said the attorney general was moved by the outpouring of affection from his staff yesterday and their support for him over the past many months as he wrestled with his decision. Some in the crowd held signs that said, "40 More Years."

"There aren't a lot of politicians like him," said Catherine O'Malley, who is married to the mayor. "Actually, there are no politicians like him. He's one of a kind."

Ehrlich, a Republican, issued a two-sentence statement yesterday thanking Curran "for dedicating nearly a half century to serving the citizens of Maryland."

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who at 84 plans to run for his office again, said in a statement that he wishes Curran "all the best during his retirement" and thanked 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," Schaefer added.

Curran was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., but moved as a child with his family to Baltimore, where his father was raised. The son of a Baltimore councilman, Curran served in the Air Force before winning election to the Maryland House of Delegates and the state Senate, where he served for 20 years.

He was subsequently tapped by Gov. Harry R. Hughes to be his running mate after Hughes dumped his incumbent lieutenant governor from the ticket. Hughes and Curran would serve one term together.

In 1986, Curran won the attorney general job. In that office and throughout his career, he has advocated traditionally liberal positions: opposition to the death penalty and gambling, and support for stronger handgun laws and for a woman's right to an abortion.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said it is the matter of Curran's support for abortion rights -- a position that clashed with his Catholic beliefs -- that most moved her when she was a young Democratic activist working to influence local politicians.

"For me, it was a moment that will always be defining in Maryland history," McIntosh said.

Ralph S. Tyler, who was Curran's deputy between 1991 and 1996 and is now the city solicitor, said Curran has always been ahead of the curve politically.

"He's been right on the major legal and social issues that have faced the state for half a century," Tyler said.

Curran said yesterday that being attorney general had surpassed the greatest hopes he had for his career, and he thanked his staff for letting him be their "spokesperson."

"I'm so proud to have been able to work with you," he said, as his audience broke into applause. Some wiped away tears as they watched several of Curran's 11 grandchildren run into his arms. Then, the attorney general flashed a peace sign. He waved, saluted and waded into the crowd.
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun