Curry calls decision to sit out election politically pragmatic

`It just didn't strike me as feasible,' he says of opposing Townsend

May 14, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

His name has been mentioned as a candidate for every statewide office from governor to comptroller to attorney general.

But Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry will apparently take a break from a life in government -- a decision he says has more to do with a pragmatic evaluation of the state's political scene than his desire to serve the public.

Curry announced recently that he won't run for office this year and will instead return to the private sector in a still-unspecified job.

Term limits prevent the 51-year-old former land-use lawyer from seeking re-election as county executive. Curry said in an interview yesterday that there are only two other political positions he would want: U.S. senator or governor.

Neither of Maryland's Senate seats is up for grabs this year. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's term expires in 2004.

As for governor, Curry joins a growing list of political up-and-comers who believe it is best to sit out this year's race.

He is the third chief executive among those leading Maryland's four largest jurisdictions to acknowledge publicly the strength of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic candidate for governor.

Curry, along with Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, talked about challenging Townsend in a primary. All except O'Malley have decided that her fund-raising edge, name recognition and incumbency status would be too much to overcome.

"It just didn't strike me as feasible," said Curry, referring to the governor's race. "I would undertake such a race if I thought there was a likelihood I could win it."

He said he could have performed well in a primary, particularly among African-American and other minority voters. But he thought he would get more resistance -- and face defections -- in a general election.

"For this state, I didn't see a general election contest as realistic," he said.

Curry said he was turned off by the prospect of challenging either of two popular incumbents, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. And neither job truly appealed to him.

"The offers that were put in front of me politically were place-holders," he said.

Curry's decision has an effect on Townsend and O'Malley. Political observers have mused for months about the possibility of an O'Malley-Curry gubernatorial ticket, an alliance that would bridge the Baltimore and Washington regions and likely cut into Townsend's popularity among black voters.

Now, if O'Malley runs, the list of high-profile black leaders who might stand with him has grown shorter.

"People quite accurately assessed my fit as a lieutenant governor," Curry said. "It would be a very tough fit for me."

Townsend would like Curry's endorsement and support as the head of the state's second most-populous county. Curry is still in a position to make requests of the lieutenant governor -- for example, that she select an African-American as a running mate -- and have his desires heard.

"I haven't made any endorsement decisions. She and I will have to have discussions," Curry said. "I would hope that those who staked out territory at the top of ticket would consider adding an African-American to it."

Politics watchers were quick to note that Curry has left the return door unlocked. His announcement said that he won't be on the ballot this year "barring unforeseen circumstances."

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, chairman of the Prince George's County Senate delegation, said he could see a scenario where Curry would re-emerge if another statewide candidate were unable to run for health or other reasons. "I would bet on that," Pinsky said. "The only thing [Curry's announcement] meant to me was there wasn't going to be an O'Malley-Curry ticket."

Del. Rushern L. Baker III, who heads the Prince George's House delegation and is running for county executive, said he expects to see Curry return to political life someday. "I don't think it ends his political career," he said.

But Curry said he is content to return to the more manageable schedule that a law firm or another private-sector job offers, and he is eager to spend more time with his children, son Julian, 8, and daughter Taylor, 6.

"It has been 10 years," he said of his life in politics. "It has taken a significant toll on my family."

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