The office was almost empty when he came across the letter. It was stuffed in the back of a desk drawer, a quick political courtesy note that somehow never reached the trash. Yet, when he found it recently, Joe Curran looked at it for a long time, smiling at its irony.

It was from the "Office of the Lieutenant Governor-Elect," and the message was one of eager anticipation, written by a young man who had been struck by political lightning. Four years and a political lifetime have passed since Lt. Gov.-Elect Samuel W. Bogley III mailed that note to Sen. J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Now, both men are clearing out their offices, Bogley to move on to political oblivion, Curran to move into Bogley's office--but, he hopes--not his shoes. Curran, 51, is a man whose reputation as a mild-mannered legislator has caused people to compare him to Bogley, the man he will succeed a week from Wednesday.

"I'm not worried about that, really I'm not," Curran insists when asked if he is concerned that he might end up in the same kind of political exile Bogley languished in. "The fact is (Gov.) Harry (Hughes) and I agree on almost every issue. Sam, for reasons that I'm sure he was very sincere about, caused, uh, some problems for the governor."

That is Curran's polite way of saying that Bogley made his own bed by publicly disagreeing with Hughes, most notably on the abortion issue, time and again during his four years here.

"I don't see any difference between Sam Bogley and Joe Curran," said Del. Paul E. Weisengoff (D-Baltimore) who worked against the Hughes-Curran ticket in the election. "They are both sweet, gentle men who get pushed around by everyone."

But beyond their gentle natures, the lieutenant governor who will be sworn in Jan. 19 has little in common with the man he succeeds. Curran has been a legislator for 24 years, a senator for 20, a committee chairman for 16. Bogley had never been in the legislature. Curran knows all the important legislators, is comfortable roaming the halls of the state house and, most importantly, he and Hughes are good friends. Equally important, their wives get along.

"I'm planning on having Joe do a lot of things," Hughes said. "He's already heading a couple of task forces. He'll work on our legislative package, he'll be busy."

Already, however, there are some on the Hughes staff who say he may be as powerless as Bogley, partly because of a decision by Hughes to combine his and Curran's staffs into one.

That means that Curran will have fewer people--an administrative assistant and a secretary--assigned to him than Bogley did. He will have the governor's staff available to him, but as one staffer put it, "if you've got a job to do for Harry and a job to do for Joe, which one do you think will get done?"

Ejner J. Johnson, Hughes chief of staff, denies that will be a problem. "If there was an adversary relationship between Joe and the governor it could be," he said. "But there isn't. Don't forget we've all known Joe for years and we all like him."

Curran, who has spent most of his time since election day wrapping up his law practice (he is taking a pay cut to become lieutenant governor at an annual salary of $62,500), isn't worried about details such as the size of his staff. That will come later.

"All I want to do is get through this first session, hope we can get a few things accomplished and then sit down with Harry and talk about some of the things I'd like to get done in this job," Curran said. "I have some ideas I'd like to work on, like the prison system, that will take time, thought and energy. We've got to get through this session first, though."

Penal reform and gun control will be two of his major priorities as the No. 2 man in state government. Ironically, Curran feels that with the main proponent of gun control, himself, out of the Senate, it will be more difficult to get legislation passed this year.

It was during a social trip on the governor's yacht last spring that Hughes asked Curran to run with him. "Here I thought I was just going for a boat ride," Curran said with a laugh as he put the dog-eared Bogley letter away. "Now look what I've gotten myself into."