Attorney general race adds Simms

Using Duncan campaign funds questioned

Maryland Votes 2006

June 30, 2006|By SUMATHI REDDY | SUMATHI REDDY,SUN REPORTER

One week after his bid for lieutenant governor ended, Stuart O. Simms announced his candidacy for attorney general yesterday, amid questions about whether he will fully benefit from funds that he and former running mate Douglas M. Duncan raised.

Jody Couser, previously spokeswoman for the Duncan-Simms ticket who now speaks for Simms alone, said the campaign's attorney had determined that it was legal to transfer money in Duncan's coffers to the Simms campaign, but the exact amount was still unclear. Couser has said the Duncan campaign has about $700,000 in funds.

Officials from the State Board of Elections said yesterday that even if a candidate drops out of a race, his or her committee can make an unlimited transfer -- exceeding the normal $6,000 limit -- to a committee shared with someone else.

Still, questions remain about whether Simms can use the funds from the Duncan-Simms committee to run for a different position, as he is doing.

Simms declined to comment on questions about his funding, saying only that he is "pleased to have Doug's support, not only his endorsement, politically, but also his financial support."

Describing himself as an "underdog," Simms, 55, faces three other candidates in the Democratic primary.

Douglas F. Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, has raised $1.5 million, and Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez has raised $230,000.

Another candidate, J. Wyndal Gordon, who practices law in Baltimore, also has declared.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle is running for the Republican nomination.

Simms declared his candidacy outside the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore, surrounded by more than 200 supporters chanting, "We want Stu."

Two hours later, he repeated his declaration in Prince George's County.

"Like many of you, certainly, I was disappointed," he said of being unable to complete the gubernatorial campaign with Duncan, who dropped out of the race after a diagnosis of clinical depression.

"But ladies and gentlemen, there is another journey and another battle to be fought, and that battle is the fight to change the face of Maryland," he continued. "This is a battle to ensure that every person is treated equal under the law."

Simms, the son of a teacher and a steelworker, grew up in Sandtown in West Baltimore, gaining admission to the elite Gilman School and going on to star on a nationally ranked football team at Dartmouth College. He then earned a law degree at Harvard University.

He spoke yesterday of the need to "break down the walls of injustice and seek redress," of fighting discrimination and previous wrongs, of putting an end to corporations that "prey on those who are helpless."

With a nod to the possibility of becoming the state's first African-American attorney general, he concluded by asking his supporters to "join me as we change history."

Simms did not outline a platform for his campaign. When asked about it, he mentioned broad topics, such as care for the elderly, consumer protection and child abuse.

The candidate said he would work hard to spread his name and message across the state but is helped by the months he spent campaigning with Duncan.

He said that he did not seek the position before because of his admiration for Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who announced his retirement a week after Simms joined Duncan's ticket.

Simms said he is buoyed by staunch supporters, ranging from Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey to Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

All three made appearances with Simms yesterday, mentioning his impressive education credentials, long list of experience in every sector and his integrity.

He was appointed Baltimore's state's attorney in 1987 and re-elected to the position twice. He has also held two state Cabinet positions.

Under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, he headed the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Political observers are divided on whether Simms' late entry -- two months after Gansler and Perez declared -- will hurt him, financially or otherwise.

Simms' supporters were wasting no time yesterday, handing out fliers for a Baltimore reception held last night, seeking contributions for $2,000, $1,000 and $500.

Paul S. Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at University of Maryland, College Park, said that by this point in the political season a lot of political activists -- those organizing fundraisers and meet-and-greets -- have lined up behind other candidates.

"When you commit to a candidate and you get other people to commit to a candidate, it's very unusual to switch or change," he said.

He said the real battleground in the race will be in Prince George's County, where Gansler has made inroads.

But others, such as former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is a close ally of Simms, said his message will resonate well in the in the predominantly African-American county.

"He really threw himself into the lieutenant governor's race very energetically and got around, and I think he was pleased to see the response he was receiving," said Schmoke.

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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