'Rising star' is new chief of prisons But some supporters wonder whether he'll be given full authority

November 03, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Even before Maryland's top prison official announced his retirement, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other political leaders were making their pitch for Stuart O. Simms to fill the post.

Simms, a Baltimore native, had built an impressive resume: a law degree from Harvard, assistant U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice, Baltimore state's attorney and state secretary for juvenile justice. Moreover, Simms has established a reputation as a leading crime fighter in Maryland.

Today, the 47-year-old Simms begins his new job as secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

But even with his strong background, he faces a challenge -- succeeding Bishop L. Robinson, who held the job for a decade, a political star whose touch with legislators has been described as magical.

Robinson, who retired from the $124,413-a-year job last week to take a consulting job with Lockheed Martin Corp., brought computerization to a fragmented criminal justice system and launched the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center and community detention projects. Both of those projects have had their share of problems but have been hailed as national models because of their innovation and overall accomplishments.

"Clearly, Stu Simms is a rising star in the Glendening administration, and rising stars take on difficult assignments," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee. "The other thing is that Bishop Robinson is going to be a tough act to follow. Bishop Robinson has the strongest reputation among us."

Robinson was dubbed the "Archbishop" for his sermonlike speaking style during legislative hearings. At times, state delegates have been found rocking slightly in their seats to his words.

Simms, on the other hand, doesn't raise his voice or rouse a crowd. He's usually calm and pensive. But he's not intimidated by his predecessor's success.

"Stuart Simms carries his own shoes," Simms said. "I've always worked hard. Beneath the calm exterior, I'm motivated to do. My leg ticks all the time."

L Simms said he looks forward to the challenge of his new job.

'Deep concern'

"I think there's a very deep concern in our communities and in our country about the efficiency for the criminal justice process," he said. "We can improve what we're doing -- outcomes for victims and the accused."

While most agree that Simms has big shoes to fill, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made sure that Simms wouldn't step into those shoes alone.

The governor appointed George B. Brosan, a former state police superintendent who had backing for the latest appointment from Townsend, to be Simms' senior adviser -- a contractual position that pays $88,000 a year.

It is widely believed that Brosan, whom Simms has known for about 20 years, will become Simms' deputy secretary, a position that would have to be created.

Some call it a plus because Brosan brings experience as a law enforcement officer, while Simms brings the legal background. Others see it as a move to diminish Simms' authority because he didn't make the choice himself, and Maryland will see the lieutenant governor have a stronger hand in public safety issues.

"Why can't he appoint his own deputy? That's not right," Schmoke said. "Stu is a great crime fighter. The thing about it is Stu's not going to complain."

Schmoke and Simms worked together for years in the U.S. attorney's office and the Baltimore state's attorney's office. When Schmoke was city state's attorney, he named Simms his deputy.

Their careers diverged when Simms moved to a governor's Cabinet position, catapulting him onto the state stage. Some observers say Simms' positions as juvenile justice secretary and now public safety secretary are a prelude to a run for attorney general in 2002 -- a hope of his supporters.

The public safety post could be the one to establish him as a solid contender.

Townsend said she is happy with Simms' selection as public safety secretary and believes he is a good criminal justice leader. She said his accomplishments include developing job skills programs in Prince George's County and helping to improve conditions at the Cheltenham Youth Facility.

But she doesn't dispute that she now will have a strong role in public safety: "Since the beginning of the administration, I've led our administration in anti-crime efforts."

Gilman, Dartmouth, Harvard

While growing up in Baltimore, Simms attended Gilman, the private all-boys school in Roland Park, where he was captain of the football team. He graduated in 1968, then attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in government in 1972. He received a law degree from Harvard in 1975.

His career took off, beginning with the Baltimore law firm Semmes, Bowen & Semmes after graduation. He was a staff lawyer for U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, an assistant U.S. attorney in 1978 and Baltimore state's attorney in 1987.

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