Mr. Gansler's Vision

Friday, August 25, 2006

AFTER 20 YEARS in office, J. Joseph Curran Jr., in deciding to step down as Maryland's attorney general, has opened the door to new blood. The best of three Democratic candidates seeking the job in the Sept. 12 primary is Douglas F. Gansler , an experienced prosecutor whose vigor, vision and savvy make him well suited to the job.

Mr. Gansler, a former federal prosecutor and for the past eight years the state's attorney in Montgomery County, has irritated plenty of people in Maryland by his unabashed ambition for higher office and sometimes unseemly zeal for the limelight. His reprimand by the state Court of Appeals in 2003 for unguarded public statements led some to question his character. But if ambition and an appetite for publicity were disqualifying traits in politicians, the halls of government would be empty. In Mr. Gansler's case, the bottom line is that whatever his foibles and occasional lapses in judgment, his performance in office has been strong.

He inherited a solid prosecutorial office in Rockville but strengthened it by directing resources to targeting gangs, Internet crime and crimes against the elderly. He insisted on prosecuting sniper John Allen Muhammad despite the imposition of a death sentence in Virginia. Mr. Gansler drew flak for that decision, but it was the right one: Six people were shot to death in Montgomery County in the series of killings by Mr. Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, and Mr. Malvo's testimony at trial provided new revelations. Those two facts justified Mr. Gansler's stance.

In addition to his solid credentials as a prosecutor, Mr. Gansler, who has coveted the attorney general's office for at least five years, has developed a thoughtful, sophisticated agenda for the state's top law job. He seems particularly determined to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by going after agribusiness polluters, even those out of state, by using state and federal tools that he contends are underused. His sense of urgency will replace what has often seemed to be the state's complacent approach to the bay.

Moreover, Mr. Gansler has sensible ideas about stepping up prosecutions against gangs, possibly by the passage of a state racketeering statute, and about cracking down on Internet sexual predators.

Mr. Gansler's two Democratic primary opponents are Tom Perez, a Montgomery County Council member, and Stuart O. Simms, the former state's attorney in Baltimore. Mr.

Perez is a lawyer of uncommon idealism and integrity. But on occasion he has let his passion for liberal causes outstrip his judgment, for instance, by pushing for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada -- an action deemed illegal by the federal government. Mr. Simms is a solid, substantive candidate with a commendable record of public service, but he is no match for Mr. Gansler when it comes to energy and forward-thinking resolve.

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