Incumbent Curran faces 2 challengers CAMPAIGN 1994 -- ATTORNEY GENERAL PTC

August 26, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

His opponents in the Democratic primary agree that Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is a nice man with a long record of public service.

But challengers Patrick J. Smith and Eleanor M. Carey claim that Mr. Curran, 63, is no longer energetic enough to be Maryland's top lawyer, and they are trying to make his recent record an issue in the Sept. 13 primary.

"Despite his relatively young age, [Mr. Curran] has demonstrated over the past several years being too old, too tired and too lacking in commitment to effectively serve as the general in the war on crime," says Mr. Smith, 46.

Ms. Carey, 52, contends Mr. Curran was "asleep on the job" for not knowing about state investments in the tobacco industry and hasn't "lifted a finger" to enter the crime debate.

The mild-mannered Mr. Curran dismisses those accusations as "unkind and untrue." He says he is proud of his eight years as attorney general, in which he has backed gun control, prosecuted drug dealers on income tax charges, fought the tobacco lobby and targeted environmental crime and insurance fraud.

The winner among the three will face Republican Richard D. Bennett, unopposed in the primary, in the November general election.

Like Mr. Bennett, Mr. Smith and Ms. Carey have promised to use the attorney general's office as a "bully pulpit" in the fight against violent crime.

Mr. Curran notes that as described in the Maryland Constitution, the office's main job is to prosecute fraud against the state government, advise state agencies and handle appeals of criminal cases. He boasts a 93 percent success rate in getting criminal convictions upheld on appeal.

But he also says he already uses his office as a "bully pulpit." Last month, for example, he preached against the state's pension fund investments in tobacco companies. (Ms. Carey, however, has criticized him for not knowing about the investments until a reporter told him.)

Mr. Curran has long lobbied for stronger gun control laws, which he supported at least a decade before the issue became politically popular.

His father, a former Baltimore councilman, was in City Hall in 1976 when an assassin came looking for the mayor, William Donald Schaefer. The gunman shot and killed Councilman Dominic Leone and shot at the elder Mr. Curran. Mr. Curran escaped the bullet but suffered a heart attack during the incident and died months later, his son recalled.

Mr. Curran has taken several other controversial stands in recent years, such as supporting a needle-exchange program to prevent drug addicts from spreading AIDS.

This month he delivered the opening arguments in a lawsuit brought against the state by the country's largest tobacco manufacturers, which are challenging a proposed statewide ban workplace smoking.

A career politician, Mr. Curran served over 28 years as a Maryland delegate, senator and eventually lieutenant governor.

In his current race, he leads in campaign fund-raising among the Democrats. He has raised $483,400, compared with $317,000 by Ms. Carey and $67,500 by Mr. Smith, recent reports show.

Although Mr. Curran has a strong record on women's issues, Ms. Carey won the support of the National Women's Political Caucus and Harriet's List, a political action committee trying to increase the number of women officeholders in Maryland.

Ms. Carey is making her second bid to become attorney general. She lost to Mr. Curran in a three-way race in the 1986 primary.

Like Mr. Curran, she had a politically active father. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor and lieutenant governor in Rhode Island years ago. Perhaps more importantly, he supported his daughter's interest in law and politics, nontraditional careers for women of her generation.

In 1978, Ms. Carey left a law practice to manage Stephen H. Sachs' successful campaign for attorney general. She went to ++ work as a lawyer for Mr. Sachs soon afterward and became the first female deputy attorney general in 1982. Her duties included supervising 216 lawyers and overseeing the enforcement of consumer protection and environmental laws.

After losing to Mr. Curran, she became a legal reporter for WJZ-TV and later returned to private practice. She joined a small team of lawyers investigating the failure of privately insured credit unions in Rhode Island.

If elected, Ms. Carey says, she will support legislation to keep guns out of the hands of people who batter their spouses. She also would push for a crackdown on violent juvenile offenders, who would be fingerprinted under her program (they are not now).

And she wants the state to set up a "fast-track gun court" to provide speedy trials for people charged with gun offenses. In the past year, she was approached by several Democratic candidates for governor who wanted her to be their lieutenant. (She won't name names). She turned them down, she says, because she didn't want to be second-in-command anymore.

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