Curran challenger says Maryland is 'dangerous' CAMPAIGN 1994 -- ATTORNEY GENERAL

May 27, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. should reorganize his office to fight crime better in this "dangerous" state, according to radio commercials paid for by a Republican opponent.

In an ad running on stations statewide this week, challenger Richard D. Bennett says Mr. Curran should reassign his staff lawyers immediately. "Maryland is now the second most dangerous state in the nation. Mr. Attorney General, you and I both know crime doesn't wait for politics. Do it, and do it now," he says.

Mr. Bennett does not mention Mr. Curran by name in the ad, which repeats his own plan to assign lawyers to help prosecute some violent crimes. Currently, most crime is prosecuted by local state's attorneys, rather than by lawyers in the attorney general's office.

Mr. Curran's campaign shot back in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Bennett "is talking about reorganizing the office to fight crime, [but] while he's rearranging the furniture, Joe Curran has been out there going after drug dealers on things like tax evasion," said Robin Pressman, Mr. Curran's campaign manager.

Another source of contention is the ad's reference to Maryland as the second most dangerous in the nation.

The Morgan Quitno Corp., a publishing company in Lawrence, Kan., came up with the ranking in January based on its analysis of 16 crime-related statistics for each state. The company looked at violent and property crime rates, the incarceration rate and police spending in each state, among other things.

"Dick Bennett is using some subjective study to exploit people's legitimate concerns about crime," Ms. Pressman said.

A spokesman for Maryland's public safety department also questioned the study's findings. Leonard Sipes Jr. said his department evaluated the 16 factors for fairness and rejected all but two: violent crime and total crime per 100,000 residents.

Based on that analysis, Maryland has the fifth highest rate of violent crime and the ninth highest rate of total crime, he said.

State officials believe the other factors used by Morgan Quitno, such as the incarceration rate, were not appropriate gauges of public safety, Mr. Sipes said.

Maryland has a high incarceration rate because it forces prisoners to serve more of their sentences than most states, he said. By including that factor in its study, Morgan Quitno essentially penalized Maryland for being tough on inmates, he said.

When informed of the state's findings, Mr. Bennett said they did not alleviate his concern about crime. "Whether it's the second or fifth most dangerous state in the country . . . in terms of where we rank, we have a crisis in the criminal justice system," said Mr. Bennett, a former federal prosecutor for Maryland.

Mr. Curran, a Democrat and former lieutenant governor, is seeking his third term as attorney general. He also is being challenged by Democrats Eleanor M. Carey, a former deputy attorney general, and Patrick J. Smith, a Rockville lawyer who managed former U.S. Sen. Paul E. Tsongas' successful 1992 Maryland presidential primary campaign.

Mr. Bennett's 60-second ads are running on radio stations from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, including WBAL in Baltimore and WTOP in the Washington area, said Dick Leggitt, a spokesman for the Bennett campaign. He declined to disclose the ads' cost.

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