Montgomery County Council President Tom Perez has formed an exploratory committee to consider running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general if the incumbent doesn't seek reelection.

Perez, a first-generation Dominican American and former civil rights prosecutor, would be the first Latino to run for statewide office in Maryland.

"We need to work hard to make sure our leadership reflects the new Maryland," said Perez (Silver Spring), a self-described progressive who led the council's effort last year to allow county employees to obtain lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

In recent weeks, Perez has stepped up fundraising efforts, sending a letter to potential supporters. He is hosting a fundraiser tonight in the District.

He said his bid is contingent upon five-term incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr. stepping aside. A Curran spokesman said yesterday that Curran, 73, plans to run in 2006, but his status is complicated by questions of a possible conflict of interest. His son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), is campaigning for governor.

Perez said he is best positioned to pursue Curran's agenda.

"I believe that my background as a prosecutor and as a consumer advocate would enable me to build upon [Curran's] progressive legacy on such vital issues as consumer protection, women's rights, environmental protection, civil rights and tobacco control," Perez said in his letter.

Perez, who as County Council president is the highest-ranking Latino official in Maryland, becomes the second Montgomery official to publicly express an interest in becoming the state's top prosecutor. State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) has already raised more than $800,000 for a possible campaign.

Since his election to the council in 2002, Perez has focused on consumer issues, most recently sponsoring legislation to crack down on predatory lending.

He is also an outspoken critic of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and President Bush. As a candidate, Perez said, he wants to reach out to Republicans to engage the GOP in a debate on values.

"We win the values debate because we have been the party that stood for making sure we provide opportunity to everyone," Perez said in an interview.

Perez, who in his January campaign filing had $7,600 in the bank, said his first task is raising money.

Council President Tom Perez said he won't run against the incumbent.