Gansler runs hard for attorney general

Friends and critics note ambition of Montgomery Co. prosecutor

Maryland Votes 2006


First of three profiles of Democratic candidates for attorney general

To say he's running for attorney general is an understatement.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, 43, started laying the groundwork for state office five years ago, before his first term as a county prosecutor had ended.

While incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr. kept many potential candidates at bay as he contemplated seeking a sixth term, Gansler, a Democrat, raised money and traveled the state to make himself known. By the time Curran made his decision in June that he would retire, Gansler had amassed nearly $1.5 million.

Now unleashed and able to campaign nearly full time, even his aides have trouble keeping up with him. On a recent broiling Sunday afternoon, a campaign worker panted as she chased after Gansler, who was knocking on doors in a Baltimore neighborhood.

Supporters and detractors alike say Gansler displays ambition - a characterization he does not shy away from. Gansler says his ambition is to be attorney general.

"You should seek the job you want to do, and do the best job you can do," the prosecutor said during a recent interview in his Rockville office.

Critics raise far fewer questions about the operation of his $11.2 million office than they do about how a photogenic, young former federal prosecutor leapt out of nowhere and in front of the television cameras.

"I would be worrying that he will be making decisions as attorney general for the state based on publicity he can garner," said Daniel Clements, a trial lawyer and Democratic activist who supports of one of Gansler's primary opponents, Stuart O. Simms.

Outside of legal circles, however, the publicity that Gansler often generates is far less controversial.

"Some are going to think it's self-promotion, and some are going to think it's useful information," said Wayne Goldstein, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.

"It's a little bit stale and old school to think you just quietly prosecute these cases and you don't try to speak to the public about what you do," said Richard "Jake" Siewert, a former Clinton spokesman who befriended Gansler when both were at Yale University. "Look, does anyone criticize [New York State Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer for his critique of Wall Street? Yeah, but they have self-interests."

If elected, Gansler said he would focus on consumer, public safety and environmental protections.

He has promised to take aim at Internet criminals, identity thieves and out-of-state and Maryland polluters of state waterways that reach the Chesapeake Bay. He says he also seeks greater coordination among authorities in dealing with terrorism.

He would ask legislators to adopt a price-gouging law to aid consumers (something Curran also sought), as well as a federal-style racketeering law to use against gangs.

"People understand that we have a burgeoning gang issue" in Maryland, he said.

Gansler was born Oct. 30, 1962, in Summit, N.J., to Jacques and Alison Gansler.

His father held several high-level positions in Washington, including undersecretary of acquisitions for the Defense Department during the Clinton administration, a connection that has given Gansler access to influential contacts.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was a featured guest at one of Gansler's fundraisers; a friend, Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat considering a presidential run, is scheduled to headline another next month.

Gansler graduated from Sidwell Friends School in Washington and received his undergraduate degree from Yale, where he was an All-Ivy lacrosse player. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989.

Gansler joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington in 1992, and left there six years later, joining the private practice of his former homicide unit boss, David Schertler, while running for Montgomery County state's attorney.

"He is just fundamentally very intelligent and very perceptive," Schertler said. He said Gansler worked hard nailing down details.

While working as a U.S. attorney, he volunteered to help review cases of possible discrimination being considered by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His frank assessments earned the respect of Linda Plummer, former president of the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP and a current House of Delegates candidate, who said she valued Gansler's insights even when his thoughts clashed with hers.

"It really opened my eyes into how the justice system operates," Plummer said.

Gansler won office in 1998 having never tried a criminal case in Maryland, and quickly found himself at the center of high-profile prosecutions.

Those have included the 1999 jailing of boxer Mike Tyson for a Gaithersburg road-rage incident a year earlier; and the 2004 attempted murder conviction of a teenager who shot and paralyzed county police officer Kyle Olinger during a Silver Spring traffic stop.

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