ACLU state director resigns to pursue graduate degree Comstock-Gay oversaw high-profile legal battles

April 24, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

Stuart Comstock-Gay, who has defended the free speech rights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam, will step down in July as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland after a decade in the job.

Mr. Comstock-Gay, 36, said yesterday that he would pursue a master's degree in public administration at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He expects to join "another agency that's doing good work" later.

"It's just time for me to go on to new professional challenges," he said. "It's been a great ride. I may be leaving the best job I ever have."

Ellen Callegary, president of the Maryland ACLU, said, "We hate to lose him. He's been fabulous."

Under Mr. Comstock-Gay, who was paid $49,000 a year, the Maryland ACLU has grown from a staff of two and an annual budget of less than $100,000 to a staff of 10, including four lawyers, and a budget of nearly $500,000. He opened an Eastern Shore office that has litigated voting rights cases.

Over the past two years, the ACLU has brought high-profile lawsuits to force the state to reform the education of poor children and to make the city and federal governments desegregate Baltimore's public housing.

An agreement in the housing case, announced earlier this month, provides for more than 2,000 black public-housing families to move to mostly white, middle-income neighborhoods over six years.

Critics, including U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have denounced the proposed settlement as "social engineering" that wrongly tries to cure poverty by spreading it.

Mr. Ehrlich and the ACLU have "profound philosophical differences but Mr. Comstock-Gay has always been a gentleman, and the congressman wishes him the best," Richard J. Cross III, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Republican, said yesterday.

Mr. Comstock-Gay has regularly taken unpopular positions: opposing youth curfews and laws against panhandling; decrying the death penalty and attempts to make English the state's official language; and defending the Klan's plans to parade in Elkton and Louis Farrakhan's right to speak at the Baltimore Arena.

A native of Cleveland, Mr. Comstock-Gay is a graduate of Bucknell University. He lives in Baltimore County.

Ms. Callegary said a committee would conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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