Simms emphasizes experience

`I deliver results,' says former city prosecutor

Attorney general

August 24, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,sun reporter

The Stuart O. Simms who was greeting potential voters at the Shady Grove Metro Station in Rockville on a recent morning is one whom friends and supporters might not recognize.

Here was Simms -- the reserved, graying, Ivy League-educated attorney -- bouncing up and down, hands wildly waving as he declared that he is running for Maryland attorney general. "You made someone jump this morning!" the 56-year-old said in a booming baritone. "Don't say you didn't make a politician jump!"

Not the usual demeanor for Simms, a former Baltimore state's attorney and Glendening-administration Cabinet secretary.

By most accounts, Simms is a by-the-book lawyer -- modest, deliberate and unwavering in his convictions.

"I don't hold press conferences. I'm a straight-ahead kind of guy," Simms said during a recent interview. "Perhaps I don't laud myself on everything I should. I may be less of a salesmen, but I deliver results."

FOR THE RECORD - A biographical box in Thursday's editions of The Sun provided an incorrect job description for Candace S. Simms, wife of Stuart O. Simms, a Democratic candidate for attorney general. She heads the Maryland/West Virginia Public Housing Division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Sun regrets the error.

But the exuberance represents a man trying to transform himself on the campaign trail.

As the final Democratic entrant in the race for retiring Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s job, Simms has less money than his opponents in the primary -- Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez.

He also has a less ambitious description of what he hopes to accomplish in the job.

Ask him his goals and he won't offer a list of lofty promises. The most specific thing he'll say is that he would hire talented people and build on the historical base of the office -- protecting consumers and the elderly.

On his campaign Web site, the link to "Issues" he supports has none.

When asked by a commuter at the Shady Grove Metro station why that is, Simms pointed out that the attorney general position is not governor, legislator or judge. "So you can't stand there making commitments all day," he explained to the man.

"To sit back now and try to give a detailed prescription misrepresents the scope of the office and misrepresents things to the public," he said later in an interview.

Simms has not run for public office since 1994, when he won his second of two terms as Baltimore's top prosecutor. Unopposed both times, he stepped down in 1995 when former Gov. Parris N. Glendening hired him to be state juvenile services chief.

He returned to public view in May, when former gubernatorial candidate Douglas M. Duncan selected him as his running mate. When Duncan, the Montgomery County executive, dropped out of the campaign in June, Simms announced his candidacy for attorney general one week later.

"Join me in this mission to change the face of Maryland. And join me as we change history," he said standing outside of the same Baltimore courthouse he entered in 1983 as deputy state's attorney.

Simms was appointed to that position by his longtime friend Kurt L. Schmoke, who then headed the office. When Schmoke successfully ran for mayor in 1987, Simms became the city's top prosecutor.

He easily lists numerous accomplishments during his tenure: starting a nonprofit that helps children with reading problems; establishing a child abuse prevention center and family bereavement center; and, perhaps most importantly, he says, hiring "excellent lawyers" and giving them training opportunities.

His time in office was not without conflict, however. He was stung by a 1992 city grand jury report, accusing his office of blocking the drug investigations of high-profile suspects. The report was later discredited.

Simms left the prosecutors' office to take what he acknowledges were "tough" jobs in the Glendening administration, running first the Department of Juvenile Services, and later the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

As secretary of public safety and correctional services for six years, Simms says he was able to upgrade software and computer programs and put accountable drug testing into place, among other things.

And that was in between coping with and responding to everything from prison breaks to overcrowding.

"No matter what the challenge was, Stu was always very calm and reassuring," said Glendening. "At Cabinet meetings he was the quiet but confident, reassuring leader. He wouldn't say much unless he had something substantive to say."

Still, Simms found his offices under fire routinely. The most high-profile controversy was the 2000 shooting of a state trooper by a man who had 72 probation violations without punishment.

His colleagues say he handled every problem with grace and level-headedness.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., who was Simms' director of public information at public safety, said he recalls countless times of having to call up Simms in the dead of the night. Simms always remained collected.

"We were literally sitting on top of a powder keg," said Sipes, who is supporting Simms' effort for attorney general. "The point was [that] there were problems and Stu was magnificently honest in terms of his appraisal of those problems and insisted that those problems were made public."

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