The focused one, always serious and responsible

Candidate

October 21, 2005|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

ROCKVILLE -- There's a well-located window on the second floor of Doug Duncan's modest childhood home in the working-class Twinbrook section of this city.

Many of Duncan's 12 siblings slid open the glass, stepped out onto the roof and slithered easily to the ground below. For middle-of-the-night escapes to hang out with friends. To do something naughty.

But not Duncan. He swears he never climbed out that window. And if you don't believe him, ask his mother.

"As a matter of fact, he never did," said Eleanor Duncan, 79. "Doug was very responsible."

Responsible. It's a word that's used often to describe Duncan, who formally announced his candidacy for governor here yesterday at the house where his mother still lives.

It's not a sexy description for a politician looking to broaden his appeal as he launches a campaign for governor. Especially since that effort will pit him in a primary contest against the sassy and sometimes unpredictable mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley.

"We're very different people, and that's what's great about this election," said Duncan, 49. "The voters are going to have a clear choice. Do they want a governor who's going to get things done, or do they want a governor who's going to talk about getting things done?"

When you're one of 13 children, you find a way to get along - to get what you need and want - or you get lost in the shuffle. Duncan has certainly gotten along, and he did it by being focused.

He graduated from Columbia University in three years to save his family money. He asked the woman he loved to marry him within six months of their first date. He ran for public office for the first time at age 26 and won every election for nearly 25 years thereafter. He championed County Council candidates who would support his agenda, not block it, and most of them won.

Duncan has also used that determination to bring splashy, big-dollar projects to the county: the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring and the Music Center at Strathmore in Rockville in particular. In the process, he has won fans who say his responsible streak is what enables him to get things done.

He also has elicited criticism from others who believe he's beholden to developers and has contributed to Montgomery County's booming growth, with its traffic problems and overcrowded schools.

As Duncan launches his campaign, he'll call on the skills - self-sufficiency, directness and, of course, responsibility - that he learned in that crowded, two-story Rockville house to make a name for himself statewide, to climb out of the insular world of Montgomery County politics and into a bigger scene.

He has been waiting for some time.

First born in Md.

James Duncan and his wife, Eleanor, began raising their first four children in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington. They needed more room for their brood, so they moved to Van Fleet Court in Rockville.

Doug Duncan, their fifth child, was the first in the family to be born in Maryland. But the Duncans, devout Catholics, wouldn't stop with Doug. Between 1949 and 1967, Eleanor Duncan gave birth to 13 children.

A slight woman who walks slowly and with a cane, Eleanor Duncan paused before answering a question about how she did it. A smile grew wide across her face. "One at a time," she said.

James Duncan, who fled Nazi-occupied France for the United States as a teenager, worked for the National Security Agency for more than 20 years. His duties were a mystery to his children, who were instructed to tell anyone who inquired that their father was a research analyst with the Department of Defense.

Doug Duncan said his father, who spoke fluent French and he believes other languages as well, probably translated intelligence information for the government. After the NSA, James Duncan taught ESOL, English as a second language, in Montgomery County public schools. A diabetic, he died in 2001 after a period of declining health.

Eleanor Duncan was the one with an interest in Democratic politics - and the one who inspired her son. A volunteer for several local campaigns, she was most enthralled by Adlai Stevenson. "I cried real tears when he lost," she said.

Doug Duncan remembers his parents' home as a fun place to grow up - despite the worries about making ends meet, despite the hustle and bustle. Doug, for example, always shared a bedroom with at least two of his siblings.

"I think we had one year where one of my brothers slept on the couch," he said.

Together with other local children, the Duncan lot would roam the neighborhood playing kick the can and hide and seek. The family was so big they used a buddy system to keep track of one another. And when James and Eleanor Duncan ran out of people to godparent their babies, they chose their older children for the job.

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