"It opens the door for some new voices to step forward," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. (D). "I would just say, let the speculation begin."
In Washington, independent analysts and Senate Republicans said Sarbanes's retirement makes a solid Democratic seat far more competitive, although Maryland gave 56 percent of its presidential vote last year to Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes at news conference in Baltimore. "It was just the right time," he said of his decision to retire.
(Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
Paul S. Sarbanes|
Graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University.
Received an honors degree at Oxford University's Balliol College as a Rhodes scholar.
Graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School; married Christine Dunbar of Brighton, England.
Elected to represent Baltimore in the state House of Delegates, where he served on the Judiciary and the Ways and Means committees.
Won a seat in the House of Representatives, after defeating a 13-term incumbent and committee chairman in the Democratic primary.
Drew national attention as he introduced the first article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon as a member of the House Judiciary Committee investigating the Watergate scandal.
Won a Senate seat, defeating one-term Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr. after beating former senator Joseph D. Tydings Jr. in the Democratic primary.
Helped lead the successful 22-day debate on the Senate floor to ratify the Panama Canal treaty, earning him the enmity of conservative groups.
Won reelection handily despite an orchestrated campaign against him by the National Conservative Political Action Committee.
Appointed to the committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, where he criticized President Ronald Reagan for allowing a "junta in the White House."
Became the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Served as ranking Democrat on the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he argued sharply with Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) in the investigation into President Bill Clinton's real estate dealings and the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr.
Won passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act while serving as Banking Committee chairman. It places stricter rules on the accounting industry to guard against practices that contributed to Enron Corp.'s failure and other scandals.
Sarbanes's announcement -- which aides had planned for a week -- brought a flood of tributes to his decency, intellect, integrity and legacy from Ehrlich, Miller, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
"He ranks among 'the best and the brightest,' " said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), borrowing a phrase from John F. Kennedy, whose presidency inspired both men to run for office.
"Without question, Paul Sarbanes is an intellectual giant in the Senate," said Hoyer, the only congressman in the state not considering a bid for Sarbanes's seat.
Sarbanes said he had made no decisions but would make plans with his wife of 44 years, Christine, explore "teaching, writing and lecturing," and spend the next 22 months opposing "the tragic and misguided policies of this administration."
Sarbanes, a Salisbury native, counted the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which sets stricter standards for the accounting industry, among his major accomplishments. He chaired the Senate Banking and Housing and Urban Development Committee from June 2001 to January 2003.
A vocal critic of Republican economic and monetary policies that he said harmed the poor, Sarbanes also became a trusted behind-the-scenes adviser to a series of Senate Democratic leaders. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, he introduced the first article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon.
He served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1967 to 1971 and the U.S. House of Representatives from Baltimore from 1971 until he entered the Senate in 1977.
Sarbanes, a New Deal Democrat, never owned a stock or bond until he invested recently in a retirement mutual fund. He is one of the least wealthy senators, reporting only the house he and his wife have lived in for decades and pension and personal banking accounts.
Sarbanes spent a quiet career that sometimes led to grumbling among Democrats who called him "the stealth senator," doubting his ambition and energy.
"They say 'stealth senator,' and of course I just point out one of the most powerful weapons we have in our military arsenal is the stealth bomber," Sarbanes said yesterday.
Still, Sarbanes acknowledged he would be 74 at the end of his term and had thought about the implications of another six-year commitment. He also deplored a political culture that would have required him to spend the next two years raising money, implicitly acknowledging pressure from state Democrats to leave time for would-be successors to raise upwards of $10 million in the next 20 months.
There have also been questions about the senator's health. He suffered complications in 2003 from an allergic reaction to medical dye injected before otherwise successful surgery to remove a benign tumor from his salivary gland. Sarbanes yesterday dismissed such talk, saying his health was fine. He has three children and six grandchildren.
Staff writers Matthew Mosk, Mike Allen and Charles Babington contributed to this report.