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Currie, censured in 2012, gets Senate challenge

By Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun

4:30 PM EDT, October 2, 2013

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State Sen. Ulysses Currie, who was censured by by his peers in 2012 over an ethics scandal, has drawn an opponent to his 2014 re-election from within his district delegation.

Del. Melony G. Griffith, a four-term lawmaker, said Wednesday that she will formally announce a primary challenge to her fellow Prince George's County Democrat on Oct. 15.

Currie, who is in his mid-70s, stood trial in federal court in 2011 on corruption charges involving payments he took from a grocery store chain. He was acquitted, but only after raising a defense that his conduct had violated Senate ethics rules rather than federal criminal laws. Currie avoided jail but was censured by the Senate after the Joint Committee of Legislative Ethics concluded he had indeed violated ethics standards.

Once a powerful member of Senate leadership as chairman of the Budget & Taxation Committee from 2002 to 2010, Currie's role has been substantially diminished since his indictment in 2010. After the grand jury action, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller removed him as budget chairman and replaced him with Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer of Howard County, who remained in that role after Currie's acquittal.

Currie, a former school principal who was  elected to the House in 1986 and the Senate in 1994, was allowed to keep his seat on the budget panel but holds no subcommittee leadership posts. Since his censure, he has kept a relatively low profile in Annapolis and has spoken infrequently on the Senate floor. Currie could not be reached for comment Wednesday but Annapolis insiders expect him to seek re-election.

The 50-year-old Griffith, elected in 1998, has risen in House Speaker Michael E. Busch's leadership team and now heads a House Appropriations subcommittee and serves as co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on Pensions. She was chairwoman of the Prince George's House delegation from 2008 to 2012.

Griffith had been one of a handful of elected officials mentioned in political circles as a possible running mate for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in his run for governor. As an African-American from Prince George's, she fit the description of the person he would seek as a lieutenant governor candidate. But Griffith indicated she is now committed to the Senate race.

"I have been very pleased to hear that my name has been mentioned among those who have the skill set and resume that might enhance a statewide ticket, but I am offering my skills and my resume to the citizens of District 25."

If Currie runs again, the June 24 primary would be the first test of his electability since a trial, in which his lawyers portrayed him as a person who crossed ethical lines because he wasn't particularly bright. He faced no opposition in either the primary or the general election in 2010 in his heavily Democratic 25th District.

Giving the incumbent a nudge, Griffith said she will continue to work with Currie as a member of the district team during next year's session but hopes he and other would give her the opportunity to lead.

In other Prince George's political news, Rushern L. BakerIV, son of Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, formally announced his candidacy for the House of Delegates in District 22 as a Democrat. He had filed in August.