Curran won't run for governor Will seek 3rd term as attorney general

September 08, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who has flirted for months with the notion of running for governor next year, said yesterday he has decided to seek re-election to a third term as attorney general, instead.

The 62-year-old lawyer from Baltimore said he simply decided he liked his current job too much to give it up.

"I love the law and having the chance to stand up for the citizens of this state. There's no other reason behind this decision," Mr. Curran said.

Other political observers, however, said the decision showed that Mr. Curran's candidacy for governor never caught on.

Yesterday's announcement proved, some suggested, that the soft-spoken attorney general lacked the desire -- the "fire in the belly" -- that candidates must have to wage a difficult and expensive race for the state's highest office.

Mr. Curran's decision to seek re-election, formally conveyed to supporters at a Democratic club crab feast in Baltimore County last night, will have ripple effects.

By eliminating himself from the gubernatorial race, the current field of probable Democratic candidates is narrowed to four: Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Baltimore County, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore.

Candidates do not have to declare their intentions officially until next July, and party primaries are not until September 1994.

The decision also changes the dynamics of next year's attorney general's race.

Had Mr. Curran run for governor, Republican and Democratic candidates alike would have had a shot at an open seat for attorney general.

Now, however, Democratic opponents must run against the two-term incumbent in the primary, and if Mr. Curran wins, Republicans will have to face the incumbent in the November general election.

Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon Political Research Inc., a political polling and consulting firm in Columbia, said that Mr. Curran's early standing in the governor's race was so low that his absence should not have a big effect on the remaining candidates.

Mr. Coker said he thought that most of Mr. Curran's gubernatorial supporters would, at least initially, defect to Mr. Schmoke.

Wherever they go, he said, they would have to be considered "soft support" because the candidate would be their second choice.

But in the race for attorney general, Mr. Coker said, Mr. Curran immediately becomes the favorite.

"He has very low negatives, and he will come into the race with name recognition," he said.

The Curran record

As attorney general, Mr. Curran has taken controversial positions on a wide range of issues.

He has long been a proponent of stronger gun control laws; he favors a needle-exchange program for drug addicts to help stem the spread of AIDS; and he led Maryland into joining an anti-trust suit against the insurance industry despite opposition from Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

He also protested the state's decision to introduce the new lottery game, keno, even as his own office was issuing an opinion saying the state's action was legal.

And last winter, he publicly opposed the confirmation of District Judge John S. Arnick, who had been accused of using vulgar and sexist language during a dinner meeting with two female lobbyists.

Two Democrats who have been campaigning for attorney general, Rockville lawyer Patrick J. Smith and former Deputy Attorney General Eleanor Carey of Baltimore, said they plan to stay in the race regardless of Mr. Curran's decision.

"My plans have never been contingent on Joe Curran's," said Ms. Carey, who ran unsuccessfully for the post in 1986.

"Attorney general was not my second choice."

Mr. Curran's seeming flip-flop was indicative of indecisive leadership, Mr. Smith charged.

Looking to new supporters

Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Glendening and Ms. Boergers all said they were not surprised at Mr. Curran's decision, and all claimed that Mr. Curran's supporters would most likely be attracted to them.

Mr. Glendening said he was "relieved" that Mr. Curran was no longer a potential opponent, calling the attorney general "a respected public servant."

But he said he expected to pick up support from Curran backers in Montgomery County as well in some of the more rural parts of the state.

Mr. Steinberg said that Mr. Curran's exit should help him because "we overlap quite a bit in our personal friends and supporters."

The two men served together in the General Assembly, Mr. Steinberg representing the Pikesville area and Mr. Curran Northeast Baltimore. Ms. Boergers said she and Mr. Curran appeal to voters interested in the same issues, principally gun control and environmental protection. They both, she added, are "pro-choice Catholics."

Mr. Schmoke, still the most tentative of the four remaining candidates, said, "This does not have an effect on my decision. I am still weighing a number of issues relating to a possible candidacy and I'm getting closer to a decision."

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