STATE POLITICS

Pillar of Liberalism Leaves Firmly Rooted Legacy

Retiring Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) surveys downtown Baltimore from his office. He also served as a state delegate, senator and lieutenant governor.
Retiring Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) surveys downtown Baltimore from his office. He also served as a state delegate, senator and lieutenant governor. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)

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By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2006

The memorabilia in Joe Curran's office fill the walls and shelves of the room, spill out the door and continue down the corridor.

The bronzed shoes from countless March of Dimes walks. The photograph of him with Babe Ruth's sister. The box seat salvaged from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore before it was torn down. "I have no idea what I'm going to do with all this stuff," mused Curran, the white-haired, 75-year-old attorney general of Maryland, on a recent morning.

His wife won't let him bring it home.

Every politician eventually faces the problem of accumulated detritus. In Curran's case, it tells the story of almost a half-century in Maryland politics. The Democrat is retiring after five terms as the longest-serving elected attorney general in state history.

But even before taking the job in 1987, he had a seemingly full career in Maryland politics behind him: in the House of Delegates and the state Senate and as lieutenant governor.

J. Joseph Curran Jr. is leaving without rancor. In this fall's elections to replace him -- ultimately won by Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) -- the candidates of both major parties vowed to continue the Curran legacy. And his son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, will be sworn in as Maryland's governor in January.

Yet the memorabilia in his Baltimore office carry reminders of times when Curran was not considered a beloved elder statesman and was denounced as radical.

The framed newspaper clipping from the 1960s denouncing him as an "ultra-liberal" for supporting interracial marriage is one example.

Curran remains an unabashed liberal -- or "very progressive," as he puts it. In his view, it goes back to a moment captured in a poster-sized enlargement of a photograph near a couch in his office. "I'm looking at what turned me on this path: my admiration for John Kennedy," he said.

The photo shows a young, dark-haired Curran in the late 1950s, shaking hands with the-then junior senator from Massachusetts. Curran left the Air Force in 1955 and was back in Baltimore when he first saw Kennedy on television.

"I was out of the service, at home in the living room with mom and dad, and we watched Kennedy," Curran recalled. "I was young and Irish; he was young and Irish. I wrote him a letter, and he wrote back."

Inspired by Kennedy's ideals, Curran ran for and won election to the House of Delegates in 1958 and, four years later, to the state Senate.


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