It also immediately reshapes the 2014 Democratic primary race, in which several high-profile county officials have expressed an interest. County Executive Ike Leggett (D), who succeeded Duncan, has also indicated that he may run again, despite earlier pledges to the contrary.
Sometimes called the “Mayor of Montgomery,” Duncan, 57, announced his decision before a crowd of 50 to 100 business leaders at a Gaithersburg hotel Tuesday. There, his pollster Harrison Hickman, who has worked for the Al Gore and John Edwards presidential campaigns, discussed a poll this year that showed Duncan had strong name recognition and favorability ratings.
“Make no mistake,” Duncan, 57, said, according to supporters who attended the meeting. “I am running for county executive.”
His entrance into the race marks a dramatic return for Duncan, the county’s longest-serving executive, who soon disappeared from public view after dropping out of the 2006 Democratic primary against then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.
In a hastily arranged news conference to announce his decision not to pursue the governorship, he said it had become clear to him that the depression he was feeling “was more than the usual wear and tear of the campaign trail.”
Shortly afterward, he said in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County that “it didn’t take any courage to stand up and say, ‘Here’s my problem.’ The courage it took for me was to admit I have a problem, to admit that I needed help and to seek that help.”
At the time, he said he was getting treatment and taking medication. His family has a history of mental health issues, campaign aides said at the time.
In an interview last month, Duncan said his mental health is much better: “I’m feeling good.”
One of his supporters, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Duncan’s run, said that he’s prepared for the issue to come up in the campaign and that it is “something that he has to address head on, and he’s more than willing to do it.”
Duncan did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
As county executive, the 6-foot-4 Duncan left a large impression on the county, masterminding the revitalization of Silver Spring and the $96 million concert hall at Strathmore. He was widely praised for his calming demeanor during the 2002 sniper crisis. He ran on a developer-friendly platform, saying that the county suffered from “paralysis by analysis.”
Despite his many successes, he also was at times a controversial figure, upsetting advocates who wanted the county to grow more slowly. And shortly before he dropped out of the governor’s race, The Washington Post reported that in 1999 he had accepted $20,000 in campaign money from businesses linked to convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff weeks before he authorized the lease of a shuttered public school to a Jewish organization Abramoff supported. Duncan later returned the money.