Doubt cast on Currie's future

Amid ethics probe, Miller raises question on committee leadership

July 09, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,SUN REPORTER

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller yesterday acknowledged speculation in Annapolis about Sen. Ulysses Currie's future in the General Assembly and said that he may revisit whether the Prince George's County Democrat should remain chairman of a powerful committee when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Federal authorities have launched an investigation into Currie's ties to Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, a Lanham-based grocery chain for which he worked without disclosing the employment in ethics filings. Currie repeatedly interceded in the state bureaucratic process on Shoppers' behalf, according to documents released by a variety of agencies in recent weeks.

"As with anyone who hasn't been charged and is presumed innocent, at this point there really isn't an issue as to him continuing as a chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee," Miller said in an interview. "If by January this issue hasn't been resolved, we'll have to make a decision."

Miller, who considers Currie "a friend and confidant," is almost certain to win a caucus election next year to another term as Senate president, a post he has held since 1987. As president, Miller has the authority to appoint committee chairs who take a lead role in shepherding bills through the General Assembly.

Currie presided yesterday over a fiscal briefing before the committee, which he has chaired since 2002. Miller said he had encouraged Currie to attend the hearing when the senator called beforehand to ask for advice. Currie said after the hearing that he is continuing his legislative duties and working with constituents.

"I'm holding up well," Currie said. He declined to answer any questions regarding the investigation or his future in the Senate and brushed aside any concerns about "distractions."

The federal investigation came to light in May when the FBI carried out simultaneous raids on Currie's home and Shoppers' Lanham headquarters. Since then, several state agencies have been served grand-jury subpoenas.

According to agency documents, Currie repeatedly intervened on routine transportation issues such as traffic signals and road improvements near Shoppers stores and on projects far from his district, including one in Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore, where the grocery chain sought public financing and other concessions.

Supervalu Inc., the grocery chain's parent company, has confirmed that Currie worked for the company, but officials have declined to say when or how much he was paid. Currie and his lawyers have declined to comment on the federal investigation.

Currie's Senate colleagues have largely supported him or withheld judgment. Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, also a member of the budget committee, said yesterday that he did not see a need for Currie to relinquish his chairmanship, noting that the intervening time between legislative sessions is typically slow.

"There's a lot of mud on the walls," Brinkley said of revelations concerning Currie's work for Shoppers. "But none of us knows anything for sure."

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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