Gansler seeks to succeed Curran

Montgomery County prosecutor gets in race

Maryland Votes 2006

May 16, 2006|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

ROCKVILLE -- Announcing his candidacy for attorney general yesterday, Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler pledged vigilant prosecution of Internet crimes and environmental polluters and said he would be a vocal advocate for consumer rights.

"You will see me in your town, in your neighborhood, at your church, community meeting and local courthouse," Gansler said during a lunchtime speech before supporters in a park near the office he has occupied for eight years. "I will be your lawyer, working every day on your behalf."

A Democrat, Gansler joins the race to succeed incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr., who announced last week he was not seeking a sixth term. Republican Scott L. Rolle, the Frederick County state's attorney, entered the contest last week. Democratic Montgomery County Councilman Thomas F. Perez also says he is running.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions gave the incorrect title for a book co-written by Laura Leedy Gansler, wife of Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler. The book is Class Action. The Sun regrets the error.

Gansler, 43, outlined a six-part plan yesterday to refocus the attorney general's office, saying he wanted a state racketeering statute to combat school-based gang violence, better-coordinated terrorism tracking between federal and local authorities and tougher prosecution of Internet crimes, including identity theft and fraud against senior citizens.

Other pledges included better consumer protection against discrimination and price-gouging, stronger truth-in-sentencing guidelines and more stringent prosecution of polluters spoiling the Chesapeake Bay.

"I will do what is right, not what is easy or political or partisan," he said. "I will stand with you."

A proven vote-getter in the state's most populous county, Gansler has more available campaign cash than any other candidate - $1.5 million as of January. Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House majority leader from Montgomery County, called Gansler a front-runner in the contest because of his money and organization. Rolle, the probable Republican nominee, had a campaign account of $6,000 in January.

Barve, who has endorsed Gansler, said the Montgomery prosecutor was poised to crack a long-standing bias in Maryland against candidates from Montgomery. No county native has been elected governor, for example.

"I think we have Maryland's version of Eliot Spitzer here," said Barve, referring to the New York attorney general who earned a national reputation by prosecuting corporate misdeeds and is a leading candidate for governor. "He won't be afraid of anything."

Missing from yesterday's announcement was another Montgomery leader seeking statewide office, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat running for governor. Duncan and Gansler have an on-again, off-again relationship, and Duncan is staying neutral in the attorney general's contest, his aides say.

Gansler's outspokenness has earned him some detractors.

"He is both an able politician and an able prosecutor," said Stephen N. Abrams, a former chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, who is running for state comptroller. "The difficulty he will run into is that he has not been a shrinking violet in public relations. That has rubbed some people the wrong way."

Asked if the criticism was founded, Abrams said: "In politics, form is substance."

Just a few feet away from where Gansler launched his campaign, Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammad was in a courtroom, continuing to defend himself from prosecution on six counts of murder. Gansler was criticized by some when he announced his office would pursue the case even though Muhammad is on death row in Virginia. Some opponents early on questioned the cost of the trial and said the prosecution fit a pattern of self-promotion by the Montgomery prosecutor.

But those questions subsided as the trial got under way, and neither Gansler nor Duncan - who was also visible during the 2002 shootings - has sought attention in the case. Assistant prosecutors are handling the trial.

"He's low-keyed it," Abrams said. "It's not Doug's prosecution."

Gansler has expressed interest in the office for years but kept his ambitions in check while Curran, a Democrat who is the father-in-law of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, decided about running again. Many political observers said Curran and O'Malley, a candidate for governor, would be dogged by conflict-of-interest questions if both stayed in the race.

Thanking Curran - who was not present at yesterday's announcement - for his service, Gansler said, "You may be retiring, but don't think for a minute that the next attorney general won't be calling on you to help."

Gansler was introduced by former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, a former U.S. attorney who said he was an early supporter of Gansler's after being introduced to him by mutual acquaintances. Gansler was a federal prosecutor from 1992 to 1998.

Tydings said Gansler "doesn't owe anybody anything" and "is far and away the best-qualified person in the state of Maryland to be attorney general."

A graduate of Yale University, where he played lacrosse, Gansler got his law degree from the University of Virginia and is a resident of Chevy Chase.

He is married to Laura Leedy Gansler and has two sons. His wife is the author of several books and was the co-writer of Civil Action, a nonfiction account of sexual harassment suffered by women hired by a Minnesota mining company. The book was made into a Hollywood motion picture, North Country, released last year.

Laura Leedy Gansler said yesterday that she was temporarily putting her writing career on hold while her husband runs for higher office. Asked how the family balanced two high-profile careers while raising two sons, she said: "First of all, he has so much energy. And second of all, our house is messy."

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

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