A top O'Connor deputy will seek to succeed her

Baltimore County state's attorney strongly endorses a run by Bailey

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July 14, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Stephen Bailey, one of two top deputies to Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor and her would-be successor, announced yesterday that he will seek the seat his boss plans to vacate at the end of her term next year.

A political novice who has spent his legal career as a county prosecutor, Bailey said he believes he can best carry on the policies of an office run, without interruption, by O'Connor for more than three decades.

That means, he said, continuing to come down hard on repeat violent offenders and maintaining his boss' policy of seeking the death penalty in every eligible murder case except those that fit certain narrowly drawn exceptions.

"I'd be a fool to try to fix something that isn't broken," he said.

The 42-year-old Towson resident's announcement came two weeks after O'Connor told her staff that she would not seek a ninth term of office.

In front of a lunchtime crowd populated by prosecutors, the Bailey family and Bailey's former law school classmate, Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, the 62-year-old O'Connor squarely placed her support behind her deputy. She could think of no one better to take her place - to nurture her staff and continue her legacy - than Bailey, she said.

"Obviously, after 32 years, you would like to see the policies, you would like to see the reputation stay the same," she said. Bailey "is a man of integrity. He's a leader in his community. He's a good family man, and he's a good friend."

Bailey's early entry into the race for the $176,213-a-year job places him in position to begin fund raising for what may be the first contested election for Baltimore County state's attorney since 1982. With no prior runs for political office, Bailey, a registered Republican like his boss, starts at a financial sea level.

By contrast, one possible challenger for the post, three-term County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, has more than $300,000 in his campaign account, according to his most recent filing with the state Board of Elections. Yesterday, Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, would say only that he is still considering a run for O'Connor's seat and that he may make a decision within the next 30 days.

"I think Sandy O'Connor's done a great job, and if I run, I expect to continue her policies and do an even better job," Kamenetz said.

For the office's prosecutors, uncertainty about the office's stewardship is a new development after so many years of continuity under O'Connor, who was first elected in 1974, said Sue A. Schenning, her other deputy and a Bailey supporter.

Bailey, who joined the office as a law clerk in 1986 and became an assistant state's attorney the next year, represents more of the same, she said. Bailey was promoted to deputy state's attorney in 2001 and makes $118,620 a year.

"We want Sandy's legacy to continue and sense it will best be continued with Steve," Schenning said.

But for at least one death penalty opponent, the prospect of maintaining the status quo is unsettling.

Critics note that O'Connor's unique stance on capital punishment has left Maryland's death row disproportionately populated by defendants convicted of Baltimore County murders, placing the county at the forefront of a debate over racial and geographic disparities in the application of Maryland's death penalty.

And while O'Connor and Bailey say the policy has taken the bias out of the process, Michael Stark, a spokesman for Campaign to End the Death Penalty, called the policy a "train wreck."

"One hopes against hope that once he's in, a fresh set of eyes will bring new policies," Stark said. But he also said his "expectations are very low."

Bailey, in his announcement yesterday, said O'Connor's continued re-election throughout the years - she ran unopposed in her last five races - shows that voters approve of what she has done.

"The voters have trusted Sandy O'Connor to help keep them safe for over 30 years, and Sandy has trusted me to continue that important work," he said. "I intend to earn the voters' trust, as well."

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