Duncan Drops Bid for Governor
Friday, June 23, 2006
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan abruptly ended his run for governor yesterday, saying that he is battling clinical depression, a development that instantly transforms Maryland's most high-profile political battle into a sharply focused duel.
Duncan threw his support behind Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), the man he has been pummeling in television ads and on the stump in the Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign for the past nine months. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had anticipated a free ride all summer as the two Democrats drained their resources trying to gain an advantage. With Duncan and O'Malley united, Democrats said, the entire complexion of the race has changed.
Duncan, 50, made his announcement at a hastily arranged gathering of campaign aides and long-time county employees in Rockville, where teary-eyed supporters consoled each other with hugs. When Duncan stepped to the podium, the room filled with boisterous cheers.
"I still believe we can move Maryland forward to better things, that we can create a state of greatness," Duncan said as his wife, Barbara, gently patted his back, took deep breaths and strained to smile. "But today, I'm here to say that I'm not going to be leading that effort."
Duncan, Montgomery's dominant political figure for more than a decade, formally launched his bid for governor in October, touring the state in a late-model recreational vehicle, promising to fill a leadership void and change the culture of partisanship in Annapolis. In recent months, as his campaign showed signs of strain -- he has trailed in the polls and fundraising -- neither Duncan nor his advisers gave any hint of a personal struggle.
But yesterday, Duncan said he had been experiencing symptoms of depression for more than a year. Initially, he said, he attributed the feelings to the stress of seeking statewide office. But in the past few months, he said, "it became clear to me that this was more than the usual wear and tear of the campaign trail."
Aides said that his depression was formally diagnosed Monday and that he is now taking medication. His family has a history of mental health problems, including his late father, who was bipolar, campaign aides said. Bipolar disorder can be a serious and disabling mood condition. Duncan told supporters that he will remain as county executive, overseeing the second-largest jurisdiction in the Washington region, as he undergoes treatment. But he said campaigning was no longer an option.
"For people who have not suffered from this illness or lived with a loved one who does, they may not understand just how difficult this can be. It is very difficult," said Duncan, who is one of 13 children and has five of his own.
"And it is difficult for me to announce today that I will no longer be a candidate for governor of Maryland," he said. "But it is the right decision for me, my family and our state."
Two hours before making his public announcement, Duncan phoned O'Malley, who ducked out of Mass at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore to take the call.
"I told him [my wife] Katie and I would be praying for him and Barbara, as he deals with his medical issues," O'Malley said in a statement released by his campaign.
Ehrlich was told of the development after a State House news conference. He declined to comment as he hustled back to his residence but later released a statement, saying he was "saddened" to learn of Duncan's health concerns. "Doug is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He embodies the personal decency and graciousness Marylanders deserve from their public servants," the governor said.