Mr. Duncan's decision

June 23, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has portrayed himself as the grown-up running to be Maryland's next governor. Yesterday, his departure from the Democratic primary underscored that notion. In a brief press conference, Mr. Duncan said he'd been diagnosed with depression. His wife, Barbara, and John, one of five sons, beside him, he said simply that he wants to spend more time tending to his health and to his family.

Mr. Duncan did not go into much detail about his illness, noting only that he'd felt more than the usual wear and tear of a campaign and that depression ran in his family. But his experience is a reminder that 20 million Americans live with depression. It's a serious but treatable condition. Left untreated, however, it can have worsening and even life-threatening consequences.

The announcement took many by surprise. Aides say Mr. Duncan felt strongly the need to be candid with the public. Certainly, the revelation was a far cry from 1972, when press reports of Missouri Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton's depression (and shock treatments) were scandalous enough for him to resign as George McGovern's running mate.

Nevertheless, Mr. Duncan's departure from the race is regrettable. During his three terms as a county executive, Mr. Duncan has proved his talents as an administrator and leader. His calm demeanor during the region's sniper attacks, his stunningly successful revitalization of Silver Spring and his unwavering commitment to public education more than qualified him for state office.

Though the primary election is only 12 weeks away, many voters were not yet attuned to the governor's race. Mr. Duncan was just coming into focus. His recent television ads revealed a man of wit and purpose, an upper-classman running against two popular sophomores. His criticisms of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Martin O'Malley were pointed but not unfair or lacking in substance.

As of today, the battle royale of a governor's race that pundits had predicted since the day Mr. Ehrlich was elected in 2002 has been joined. On a tactical level, this could give advantage to either: Mr. Duncan's support of Mr. O'Malley spares the Democrat a debilitating primary, while Mr. Ehrlich can now focus his energies (and considerable financial resources) on attacking Mr. O'Malley.

Our prediction? It's going to get ugly. And there will be moments when we'll wish a certain steady, self-effacing grown-up was still available for the job.

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