If there is one criticism that is most consistently delivered by the opponents of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in his quest to replace Gov. Martin O'Malley, it is that he is a paragon of the status quo, the anointed son of an insular Democratic Party establishment. If he wanted to prove his critics' point, he could not have found a more damning way to do it than with his support for disgraced state Sen. Ulysses Currie for re-election.
Mr. Currie is facing a spirited primary challenge in the 25th District in Prince George's County, which Mr. Brown used to represent in the House of Delegates. And for good reason: Senator Currie, once arguably the most powerful committee chairman in Annapolis, was censured by his colleagues two years ago for using the prestige of his office for private gain — and in that, he got off easy, largely because he enjoyed the protection and goodwill of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and many of his colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus. By assisting Mr. Currie's bid for re-election, Mr. Brown aligns himself firmly with the good old boys of Annapolis.
MarylandReporter.com's Len Lazarick reported Friday on a mailer going out in Mr. Currie's Senate district in which Mr. Brown praises the senator as a leader in the fight to raise the minimum wage. The brochure has a picture of Mr. Brown on the cover and another inside of him standing next to Mr. Currie.
Here is why Mr. Brown shouldn't be touching Senator Currie with a 10-foot pole:
From 2003-2008, the grocery chain Shoppers Food & Pharmacy paid Senator Currie nearly $250,000 to advocate on its behalf with state regulators. He met with state officials and sent memos making Shoppers' case on his Senate letterhead. He did not tell any of the state officials he met with that he was being paid by Shoppers, and he did not disclose the relationship in his annual state ethics filings. He was reportedly quite effective: According to a former State Highway Administration chief, the senator was dogged in his advocacy and succeeded in getting the agency to expedite highway projects desired by his clandestine employers and to reconsider one after state officials had deemed it unnecessary. A report by the legislature's ethics committee found that Senator Currie knew it was only his elected position and his chairmanship of the Budget and Taxation Committee that allowed him to get meetings with state officials.
Mr. Currie was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2010. His trial was an embarrassment. The first witness on his behalf testified, in effect, that Mr. Currie was too dumb to be corrupt. On that defense, he was acquitted.
Even if we were to leave it at that, it's hard to see how it leads to much of a case for Mr. Currie's fitness for public office. But the Senate, in voting to censure him in 2012, found that he had broken the law in failing to disclose his financial ties to Shoppers, voted on legislation in which he had a conflict of interest, abused the prestige of his office and acted as an unregistered lobbyist. That is the behavior Lieutenant Governor Brown is endorsing by throwing his support behind Senator Currie.
A spokesman for Mr. Brown's campaign says that the lieutenant governor believes Mr. Currie was appropriately censured and removed from leadership, but he did give the senator approval to use his picture and quote. Brown campaign manager Justin Schall wrote in an email that Mr. Brown believes Mr. Currie "recognized his mistake, apologized, and still works to serve his constituents. If we are going to believe in second chances, then he thinks Senator Currie deserves his too."
Second chances are one thing, but Mr. Brown didn't wait for Senator Currie to admit wrongdoing and apologize. He was among the parade of elected officials who testified in Mr. Currie's trial, calling him a friend and mentor and "a man of strong integrity." Mr. Brown has never been accused of using his public office for private gain, but the fact that he would so quickly forgive and forget such conduct by a friend is disturbing in its own light. The lieutenant governor is, and should be, judged by the company he chooses to keep.
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