Depression Led to Final Decision

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and son John after the politician announced that he was ending his gubernatorial run.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and son John after the politician announced that he was ending his gubernatorial run. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Cameron W. Barr and Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 23, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's reckoning began last weekend, when he and family members decided that he would see a psychiatrist Monday morning.

Duncan's aides said he told the psychiatrist about a family history of depression and explained that in recent weeks he'd had trouble sleeping, eating and finding the energy to leave the house in the morning.

The previous week, he had spent hours at a time sitting alone in his campaign office with the door closed, not making scheduled fundraising calls to bolster his Democratic primary campaign for governor.

"The doctor did not equivocate" in diagnosing Duncan's condition as depression, said campaign manager Scott Arceneaux. After two days of meetings and reflection, Duncan reached a decision. "I can't do this anymore," he told his longtime spokesman David Weaver late Wednesday afternoon.

Yesterday, in an 8:45 a.m. call to Arceneaux, Duncan confirmed that he would drop out of the race for governor. His campaign staff finished preparations for an announcement.

A little after 2 p.m., Duncan stood at a lectern at the Executive Office Building in Rockville facing a room packed with county staffers and political supporters, who stood and clapped. Duncan smiled and seemed to enjoy the applause. His wife and one of his sons were by his side, as was his running mate, Stu Simms, a former Baltimore prosecutor.

Duncan read an eight-paragraph statement that talked about how his longtime passion for politics had not weakened during a time of personal struggle. He promised to "move Maryland forward to better things." But he said he wouldn't be leading that effort.

Duncan told the crowd about his diagnosis. "My family has a history of battling this disease, and it hasn't always been easy. 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 difficult."

He said he would support his Democratic rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, and would finish his term as Montgomery County executive. But he added, "I will not be a candidate on the ballot for any office this year for the first time in decades." He left to sustained applause, but without taking questions.

Montgomery's politicians reacted to his decision with shock. "I'm flabbergasted," said Montgomery County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), a Duncan supporter. "I thought his campaign for governor was surging."

"Doug Duncan is the best county executive in Montgomery County history. He was the best candidate for governor of Maryland," Leventhal said.

Leventhal said he had seen no sign that depression had impaired Duncan's performance. Duncan's withdrawal from public life, Leventhal added, will put "into perspective what a tremendously effective public servant he is."

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