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Sen. Ulysses Currie, dean of Md. African American lawmakers, to retire

Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), looks on after the Senate voted to censure him in 2012 for failing to disclose his work for a grocery store chain. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s), known as the dean of African American lawmakers in the state Senate, will resign next month after a 30-year career in the General Assembly.

Currie, 79, submitted his letter of resignation to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) on Friday morning. His health has declined in the past several years, and in recent months he has limited his public appearances.

“I cannot express to you what a privilege and an honor it has been to serve my constituents of Prince George’s County and the great state of Maryland with integrity for so many years,” Currie wrote. “It is my deep love for my constituents and the Maryland Senate, combined with the recognition that I can no longer serve with the strength and energy you all deserve, that I have decided the time has come to turn the mantle over to a successor.”

Currie, a resident of District Heights, was a member of the House of Delegates from 1987 until 1995, when he was elected to the Senate. In a three-decade political career, he became one of the most powerful and popular lawmakers in Annapolis.

Miller said he was “saddened to lose such a dear friend and tremendous colleague.” He said Currie brought “much needed thoughtfulness and civility” to the State House and leaves a legacy that was dedicated to improving education. “The Maryland Senate will be a lesser place in his absence,” he added.

Currie was a mentor to a host of young African Americans who were interested in public service and ultimately became leaders in Annapolis themselves, among them Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, and former delegate and lieutenant governor Anthony Brown (D), who is running to represent the 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House.

Currie “wasn’t afraid of giving young people an opportunity,” said Davis, who was 27 when he first ran on the senator’s slate. “None of us would have won without his support and guidance.”

A decade ago, when Miller was rumored to be considering retirement, Currie was seen as a possible successor.

In the House, he was a member of the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees and served as majority whip from 1991 to 1994.

Eight years after his election to the state Senate, Currie was tapped by Miller to become chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, a position he held for nearly a decade.

Currie’s career was marred in 2010 when he faced corruption charges after a federal investigation of his role as a consultant for a supermarket company. He was acquitted after a six-week jury trial in which a host of politicians, including U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) appeared as character witnesses.

The state senate voted to censure Currie, and he had to step down from his budget committee chairmanship for failing to disclose that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. He was reelected in the midst of the investigation in 2010 and again in 2014, with overwhelming support.

Last year, the state Senate honored Currie with the chamber's coveted First Citizen Award, leaving him speechless and on the verge of tears.

“Senator Currie has had to confront a federal jury, a hostile press and his Senate peers because of his private work as a consultant and his own inadequate record-keeping,” Edward C. Papenfuse, the former state archivist, said in presenting the award. “He faced up to the challenges and was acquitted of all criminal charges — but he also refused to make excuses.”

Currie has a reputation for collegiality. He was not outspoken on the senate floor, but he pushed for funding projects in his county and for legislation to help the underserved. For example, he spoke out against payday loans and, in the late 1990s, advocated for a tax-credit program that encouraged business owners to hire welfare recipients.

His resignation letter said his greatest achievement was fighting to “ensure that our State Constitutional education promise is not an empty one.”

The son of a sharecropper, Currie grew up picking tobacco in North Carolina and was the first in his family to attend college, paying his way through washing dishes and scrubbing floors to pay his way through North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Years later, he returned to school at American University, where he earned a master’s degree in education.

He worked as a teacher, principal and the head of Prince George’s County’s Head Start program.

On Friday, it remained unclear who might fill Currie’s seat. Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) and former delegate Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) expressed interest in the position earlier this year as word of Currie’s impending resignation circulated. Currie’s wife, Shirley, who is a minister, has also been floated as a possible successor.

The county’s Democratic Central Committee will recommend a replacement to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

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