Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry said he was only joking when he invited more than 300 people to his Upper Marlboro mansion last week, charged them $1,000 to get in the door and then told them he wasn't considering a run for governor in 2002.

On the contrary, Curry (D) said yesterday in an interview, he has not ruled out the possibility that he will run for the state's top office when his term expires in 3 1/2 years.

"I was exercising my sense of humor," Curry said of his remarks at his fund-raising event. "Obviously, I was not being serious."

Well, not obviously, because some of the invited guests apparently took Curry at his word and have been gossiping about it ever since. County politicos have been speculating for some time about what Curry will do when he leaves office. Some of the options that have been tossed out include his returning to private practice as a real estate lawyer, running for governor, challenging Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) for a seat in Congress or trying for a position in the Gore administration, if one materializes in 2002.

"Wayne's sense of humor sometimes confuses folks," said John A. Lally, a high school friend who attended the fund-raiser. Lally, who was press secretary to then-County Executive Winfield Kelly Jr., described Curry's future this way: "As long as you have a million bucks in the bank, you are a contender. I don't think there is anything Wayne isn't running for."

Guests at the swanky fund-raiser included Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D), racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis, Maryland Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) and former governor Marvin Mandel.

Democratic activists consider Curry one of six serious party contenders to succeed Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who cannot run for a third term because of state term limitations.

"Just look at the situation," said John McDonough, a real estate lawyer and Democratic activist from Prince George's. "He is a two-term county executive in a large jurisdiction . . . with the ability to raise funds and relatively good name recognition."

Other potential Democratic candidates include Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore congressman whose district includes Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., from Allegany County, also are considered possibilities.

Curry said he regards the crowded field as "wide open."

"I am going to assess my options like everyone else. I love this county. I love this state. It is a practical route for me to examine."