"You or your family could be the next victim. . . . Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has spent four years just watching the crime crisis worsen."
So began the first burst of "guerrilla" radio advertising from the Republican candidate for attorney general of Maryland, Edward L. Blanton Jr.
The message of criminals running amok in the streets -- and the allegation that Mr. Curran adopts a laissez-faire attitude about it -- will be heard again at intervals dictated by the availability of money and by the objective of keeping Mr. Curran off balance, Mr. Blanton says.
The 59-year-old Republican, who served as an assistant attorney general in the 1960s, argues that he is well-prepared and well-positioned not just to annoy his opponent but to win the race. As a commentary on his opponent's relaxed approach to the job, the GOP candidate suggests he is almost as well-known as Mr. Curran.
That contention sags a bit, though, in the face of a Sun Poll conducted last week which shows that 67 percent of the respondents could not identify Mr. Blanton. Another 26 percent said they had no opinion of him. Of Mr. Curran, who has been in office for four years and who was lieutenant governor before that, 37 percent of the respondents said they had not heard of him and 30 percent said they had no opinion on him.
Mr. Blanton insists that Marylanders will learn his name and his qualifications soon enough. Although he had raised virtually no money up to now, Mr. Blanton says he has a plan that calls for spending $175,000 during the general election campaign.
Current events, Mr. Blanton says, are providing a vehicle for his race.
The vehicle is John F. Thanos, the Willie Horton of Maryland politics, 1990. Willie Horton is the man who, on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, terrorized a Maryland couple and raped the woman. The Horton story became Exhibit A in President Bush's charge that his Democratic opponent in the 1988 race for president, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, was soft on crime.
Thanos is the man who was released from a Maryland prison under a controversial early-release program and was subsequently charged with murdering three people and assorted other crimes.
"There is greater responsibility for state government in the Thanos case," Mr. Blanton said. Compared with the Horton case, he said, "This is more egregious." The Maryland early-release policy, developed in part by one of Mr. Curran's assistants, was "flawed in its inception," Mr. Blanton said.
Mr. Blanton contends that Thanos is a link between Mr. Curran and the murder-rape-robbery-assault theme in his campaign advertisements.
Because prison authorities were critical of it, the GOP challenger calls the policy "the most cynical document" ever issued by the Maryland Division of Correction. Now, with that policy under attack, the state is engaged in a massive cover-up and victimization of a low-level state employee who has been suspended for allegedly misapplying the policy, the Towson lawyer says.
"Those clerks applied the policy as Joe [Curran] signed it," Mr. Blanton insists. Under that policy, "good-time" credits for early release earned on one sentence can be applied to a later sentence, provided the two sentences overlap. The so-called "concurrent, overlapping sentence" policy arose in the Thanos case. He was released early after "good-time" credits already granted for an earlier prison term were used again to reduce the second term.
Dennis M. Sweeney, deputy attorney general, says Mr. Curran did not sign the Division of Correction's early-release policy, although his assistant, Alan D. Eason, was involved in shaping the policy last year. Mr. Sweeney said neither Mr. Eason nor Mr. Curran would have endorsed a decision which allowed double credit to Thanos for "good time." Bishop L. Robinson, state secretary of public safety and correctional services, also contends that Thanos was released as the result of a clerk's error.
Mr. Curran called the Thanos matter "a tragic mistake." He said the policy should not have been applied to Thanos at all. Any good-time credits accumulated earlier had been applied earlier and were not available to reduce Thanos' second sentence, Mr. Curran said.
Corrections officials complained about the policy when it was proposed last year and asked Mr. Curran to issue an opinion on how the credits should be applied to overlapping sentences.
In the mean time, the state was sued over a similar sentencing issue by a Washington County inmate, and the opinion was sent to Mr. Robinson's department in the form of a letter of advice. Because the advice involves a pending lawsuit, Mr. Curran says the letter is protected by the attorney-client privilege and can only be released if Mr. Robinson agrees to release it. The public safety secretary has refused.
Mr. Blanton now contends that the attorney general is compounding the early release problem by ignoring his responsibility to inform the public.