GOP's Bennett enters attorney general race Ex-U.S. attorney criticizes Curran

September 30, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Republican Richard D. Bennett launched his campaign to be Maryland's top lawyer yesterday by promising to do a better job of enforcing state purchasing laws than the Democratic incumbent.

Mr. Bennett, who hopes to secure his party's nomination for attorney general, said he would work harder to see that the state follows rules designed to keep government purchases "aboveboard."

Maryland has legally sidestepped those laws during the term of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., most notably by awarding a contract last year to provide the keno lottery game without seeking other bidders, he said.

"I think contracts should be out for public bids," said Mr. Bennett, a former federal prosecutor.

Mr. Curran approved the state's decision to negotiate with only one company over the keno contract, although he said he personally opposed the game.

Mr. Curran has since proposed tightening loopholes like the one used for the keno award.

Mr. Bennett, 46, began investigating the keno contract last year while he was U.S. attorney for Maryland, a job he left in the spring.

Mr. Bennett, a former GOP leader in Baltimore County, hopes to be his party's first elected attorney general since 1922. He appears headed for an easy and possibly uncontested primary election next September.

At small political gatherings in Salisbury and Hagerstown yesterday, he left little doubt that he already has his eye on the November 1994 general election.

Mr. Bennett has been courting Democrats, essential in a state where Republicans are outnumbered by a 2-to-1 ratio, and has won the support of a few local Democratic officials.

His positions on emotional issues such as gun control and the death penalty could appeal to moderates in both parties, some Republicans said.

In Salisbury, Mr. Bennett told gun owners that he strongly supports their rights -- but not to own military-style assault weapons.

"I have never gone hunting with anyone who shot quail, duck or pheasant with an assault weapon, an AK-47," he repeated in Hagerstown. "There is no need for sportsmen and women to be paranoid of losing their right to bear arms and their right to hunt."

He supports the death penalty -- another conservative issue -- but stresses that it will not put an end to violent crime.

After his speeches, he hopped on a small plane to Baltimore for his first major fund-raiser. The $100-a-ticket event at Martin's West drew several hundred supporters.

He was endorsed yesterday by Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, who could have been Mr. Bennett's strongest challenger in a GOP primary. Mr. Flanagan said he is withdrawing from the race because "I don't think it's helpful for us to have a divisive primary."

A possible candidate in the GOP primary is Timothy Umbreit, 40, an attorney who recently represented Ronald Walter Price, the former Anne Arundel County teacher who was convicted of having sex with students.

Political observers say Mr. Bennett is likely to benefit from a strong Republican ticket for governor. Possible GOP contenders include three experienced politicians, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey of Baltimore County.

Mr. Curran, 62, is an early favorite for the Democratic nomination. He has focused his efforts on protecting consumers from business rip-offs during his two terms.

Two other Democrats say they will run. They are former Deputy Attorney General Eleanor Carey, now in private practice in Baltimore, and Rockville lawyer Patrick J. Smith, who ran Paul E. Tsongas' presidential campaign in Maryland in 1992.

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