Smith Says He Won't Run For Comptroller

July 07, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. on Monday ruled out running for state comptroller next year, but gave no indication what he would do after his term expires 18 months from now.

Smith, a Democrat, cannot seek re-election, and had been widely expected to oppose the incumbent comptroller, Peter Franchot, in the Democratic primary. He acknowledged to The Baltimore Sun in May that he was looking closely at statewide offices for a possible run. He has been traveling the state and building a campaign chest; finance reports show he raised more than $1 million during the four-year election cycle that began in January 2007.

Now, however, it is unclear what he will do after leaving office.

The decision was startling but logical, said Donald F. Norris, a public policy professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, adding that Smith might have been underwhelmed by the relatively limited responsibilities of comptroller.

"It's not an exciting position," Norris said. "The comptroller really doesn't have any opportunity to make policy, and has little opportunity to influence policy."

Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said he was "completely surprised" by the decision, and said Smith had seemed "really sincere about running for state office."

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz gave Smith credit for "not running just to run for an office," adding "that's the sign of a statesman, not a politician."

"He intends to stay in the game, but this was a difficult decision to make and he intends to make one decision at a time," said Don Mohler, Smith's spokesman, adding that Smith would not comment beyond the statement issued Monday.

"Although this has not been an easy decision, I am confident that I am making the right choice," Smith said in the statement. "Having spent many months thinking about the duties of Comptroller in the State of Maryland, I have concluded that it is not a position to which I aspire."

Smith, a former councilman and judge, has vowed to stay focused on his job for the remainder of his second term.

Given his ties to Gov. Martin O'Malley and his experience, Smith could be a contender for a high-level position in the O'Malley administration or a state or federal judgeship, said Norris. There are vacancies at the top of the state transportation and labor departments because President Barack Obama tapped Marylanders for federal jobs.

"No one is writing his political eulogy just yet," said Kamenetz.

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