Josh Kurtz: Uly's Gold

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The most exciting state Senate primaries in Maryland — with a couple of exceptions — are bunched together this year in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

This isn’t particularly surprising in Prince George’s, where bare-knuckle politics is commonplace, and factions and resentments are deep-seated. But it is somewhat surprising in white-glove Montgomery County. It’s not that Montgomery — a place where candidates woo voters by reminding them how high their IQ’s are — is lacking for ambitious pols. It’s just that the Senate primaries there are all grudge matches — and are all going to get very ugly in the next two months.

We’ll revisit these fascinating primaries soon. But this week, let’s examine a Senate primary in Prince George’s that didn’t happen — but should have: in the 25th district, where Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie (D) is unopposed for a fifth term.

Ever since the FBI raided his home in 2008, Currie has seemed like a dead duck politically. News reports alleged that Currie did tens of thousands of dollars worth of lobbying work for Shopper’s Food Warehouse, the supermarket chain — without ever reporting it to the proper authorities. And earlier this year, state investigators began closely scrutinizing Currie’s campaign finance reports, under the suspicion that he’d been pocketing campaign funds for personal use.

Does this sound like the kind of guy who should be running unopposed for re-election?

Uly Currie is an admirable figure in many ways — a historic figure, with an inspiring personal story. The son of North Carolina sharecroppers, Currie, who is now 72, was the first member of his family to go to college.

After serving in the Army during the early 1960’s, Currie came to Washington, D.C., for graduate school and never left. He spent more than a quarter century as a teacher and school administrator in Prince George’s County — and was first elected to the state House in 1986. Eight years later, he went to the state Senate, and in late 2002 he became chairman of the powerful budget committee.

Currie is, if nothing else, a man of manners — pleasant, decent, unfailingly courteous to friend and foe alike, and a mentor to a younger generation of African-American leaders in Annapolis and Prince George’s. And while it’s a stretch to call him a legislative master, the way some of his colleagues and predecessors are — too many people see the invisible hand of Senate President Mike Miller (D) behind too much of what Currie does — it’s safe to say that Currie is a competent chairman who runs a fair and professional operation.

But even if all these allegations against Currie turn out to be much ado about nothing, it’s not unfair to ask: What happened? What happened to Uly Currie? How did a smart guy get himself into this mess?

And what happened in the 25th district, the heart of the African-American middle class in Prince George’s County? Where was the outrage over Currie’s alleged transgressions — among the voters and the politicians?

Ambitious first-term Del. Aisha Braveboy (D), one of the three House members in the district, talked bravely earlier this year. She was going to run for county executive, she said, or challenge Currie. But she wasn’t brave enough, and she wound up doing neither.

What about the other two delegates? Del. Melony Griffith (D) has been in Annapolis for a dozen years. She’s chairwoman of the Prince George’s House delegation and is also the House chairwoman on a joint committee on pensions. OK positions, but nothing worth sticking around the House for. Why not take a crack at a wounded Senate incumbent?

Del. Dereck Davis (D) is the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee — a position the last two House Speakers held, so it’s understandable why he didn’t run for Senate.

But what about all those other ambitious Prince George’s politicians who are running for county executive or states attorney or sheriff and don’t have a chance of winning? What about term-limited members of the County Council, present or past? Surely someone could have taken a shot.

Currie was certainly prepared for battle. In January, he had more than $300,000 in his campaign account, and access to other money through various campaign slates. According to the scuttlebutt in the county, he was willing to pay $100,000 to a top-notch political operative to run his campaign and save his hide.

Now, he won’t have to.

Anyone who has met Currie and knows what a nice guy he is has to wish him well. But anyone who cares about democracy, and about honesty in government and politics, cannot be happy that this guy is getting a free ride.

Josh Kurtz is a managing editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Death and Deadlines

Bad News for Democrats From Washington to Washington County

Mr. Smith Goes ... Where?

End of the Line for Vallario?

Mission: Control

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood


Black and Blue?


Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.