Gansler swamps Simms' efforts

Attorney General

Maryland Votes 2006 -- The Primary Election

September 13, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN REPORTER

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler easily defeated Stuart O. Simms last night in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

Gansler praised Simms and called him "classy" before turning his focus toward forming a Democratic ticket for November. "It is important as we go into the general election that we do have a geographically and demographically diverse ticket," Gansler said.

Gansler said he believed his message of public safety, environmental enforcement and carrying on Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s legacy of consumer protection resonated with voters.

Simms, the former Baltimore City state's attorney, conceded around midnight.

"You helped to make it a credible race, even though we did not prevail," Simms told supporters in Baltimore after he called Gansler to offer his support.

"While we did well, we did not do as well as we would have liked," Simms said in brief concession remarks around 11:50 p.m.

Both candidates spent the day in frenzied campaigning, Simms from his base in Baltimore and Gansler from his in Montgomery County - two jurisdictions beset by voting glitches.

This is the first time in two decades that the attorney general's post is open. Curran, the five-term incumbent and father-in-law of Baltimore mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley, is retiring.

Republicans had no primary contest for attorney general. The Democratic primary winner will square off against Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle.

"We are ready to go," Rolle said shortly after midnight.

He immediately pointed out that Gansler "has never sought the death penalty" in eight years in Montgomery County.

"We are going to run a campaign that is going to be very keen on the law enforcement aspect of the job - I think that has been put on the back burner for a long time," Rolle said.

Gansler, 43, and Simms, 56, offered voters contrasting personal styles as well as backgrounds.

For the last five years Gansler had been saying that he wanted to be attorney general. Within days of Curran's decision not to seek a sixth term, he announced that he was running and rolled out his platform.

Gansler burst onto the political scene in 1998, leaving a job as a federal prosecutor to challenge Montgomery County's incumbent top prosecutor. He won, overhauled the office and in the first few years was at the center of high-profile cases that included a murder for hire, assault charges against boxer Mike Tyson and a murder defendant who fled to Israel.

Gansler, who grew up in Bethesda, had been politically involved since he was a teenager and long wanted a career in public service. His father served in the Defense Department under four presidents, and Gansler came to know numerous people in government, policy-making and politics.

Simms began the political season as the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Douglas M. Duncan, the Montgomery County executive. But when Duncan withdrew, for treatment of clinical depression, Baltimore-area politicians pressed Simms, a city native, to run.

Simms had not sought public office since 1994, when he won his second of two terms as Baltimore City state's attorney. He was unopposed both times, making the current campaign his first contested bid for office. But the late start put him behind in money, organization and message, forcing him to rely heavily on lawn signs to win name recognition.

From 1995 to 2003, he held two Cabinet posts in the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, first as juvenile services chief, then as head of correctional services and public safety. The roles brought him into regular contact with state legislators, and he developed a reputation for being thoughtful and soliciting a lot of input before making decisions.

From the moment he announced he was running, Gansler held to a finely honed message in which he vowed to help restore the Chesapeake Bay, prosecute gangs and take on Internet crime. Simms started off more slowly, speaking of his record of working closely with diverse groups.

As the campaign neared the final weeks, he framed issues of health care access and the needs of workers in terms of civil rights. Toward the end of the campaign, Simms pointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals' 2003 reprimand of Gansler for pretrial publicity.

The attorney general's race kicked off with four candidates. But J. Wyndal Gordon, 37, a lawyer with a private practice in Baltimore, dropped out in July and backed Simms.

First-term Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez, 44, was disqualified late last month by Maryland's highest court for lack of 10 years of legal experience in the state. Perez supported Simms.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Liz Bowie and special correspondent Emily Haile contributed to this article.

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