Back in Public, Duncan First Goes Back to School

"I feel better," Duncan says of his mental health. (James A. Parcell - Twp)
By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More than two months after he ducked out of public view to seek treatment for depression, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan reemerged yesterday, greeting school kids on the first day of class and talking about the libraries he wants to open before he leaves office.

Duncan (D) has planned a full week of ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings, but don't look for him on the campaign trail anytime soon. He is having his hip replaced Sept. 6 and expects a three- to six-week recovery period.

The county's dominant elected figure for the past 12 years stunned the political establishment in June when he announced that he was dropping out of the governor's race to battle depression. His decision reshaped the election, creating a two-way contest between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D).

Duncan began his first morning back on the public stage by driving daughter Conor, a freshman, to the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington.

"I'm excited about the first day of school. It's always a new beginning for everyone," he said.

Before Duncan reached the front door at his second stop, Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, a half-dozen television cameras had descended, and reporters immediately asked about his mental health.

"I feel better, much better," he said. "Hopefully, people will learn something from this and seek treatment when necessary. It works."

Because of his bad hip, Duncan limped slowly through the hallways and appeared uncomfortable as he navigated the stairs. His face lifted when he dropped into two 10th-grade classrooms, where he was greeted with superlatives and hugs that seemed to last a little longer than usual.

"The king here is this tall guy," Montgomery School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said, motioning to Duncan.

"I'm so glad to see you. How are you?" social studies teacher Mary Anna Donohoe asked as she embraced Duncan.

Duncan seemed most at ease, though, when he entered Keri Healy's classroom of first-graders at Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring. Sitting in a rocking chair, he surveyed the group and dispensed advice on dealing with first-day jitters.

"Anyone nervous?" he asked. "You won't be nervous at the end of the day."

In his time away from county government, Duncan said, he has been following the latest developments in Maryland politics, "reading it all with fascination."

For a brief moment yesterday, he sounded as though he was back on the stump seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

When asked about O'Malley's proposal to spend $400 million on school construction projects statewide, Duncan said, "That's a minimum. That barely gets you where you need to be."

And would he do a joint appearance with his former rival? "I've already endorsed the guy. I've given him my support," he said.

Duncan has not endorsed either of the leading Democrats seeking to replace him as county executive: former County Council member Isiah "Ike" Leggett and council member Steven A. Silverman (At Large).

But he seemed acutely aware of his fleeting days in the office he has held since 1994. Duncan said he would be looking for work in the private sector:

"On December 4th, at 12:01, one minute after noon, I've got to be employed somewhere else."

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