In an emotional speech in which he promised to remain an advocate for his constituents, longtime state Sen. Ralph M. Hughes announced last night that he will not seek re-election this year.
"Over the past quarter of a century, I have kept my promises," Hughes told of crowd of hundreds of supporters at an event honoring community leaders at New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore. He paused and beckoned his wife to join him at the podium.
"I feel my season here is complete," Hughes said, his voice breaking and tears falling. His wife, Mary M. Hughes, continued his written remarks, saying, "and it is time for me to do other things. I have decided not to seek re-election."
Among his accomplishments, Hughes said, were the passage of bills that created a statewide board to regulate the types of guns sold in Maryland, limited the number of liquor stores in the district and created a city police civilian review board that was the first in the nation to have subpoena power.
In an interview afterward, Hughes, 58, said he was overwhelmed by the support he has received during his career but decided this week that he had accomplished all he had set out to do and wanted to concentrate on his work as a professor at Coppin State University, travel with his wife and write books.
"I didn't want to get emotional. I was trying," he said, adding, "Too many people just want to hold office. Back in the '60s, you had people advocating and fighting for things. Now they just hold office for office's sake, and I've done just about everything I can in Annapolis."
Hughes, a native Baltimorean, graduated in 1970 from what is now Morgan State University and received a law degree in 1973 from Howard University. He also holds a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.
Elected to the House of Delegates in 1982 and to the Senate in 1990, Hughes expressed particular pride in passage of a 1988 bill he sponsored, creating a statewide board to review which guns can be sold in Maryland. The National Rifle Association lobbied hard against the legislation.
"That was the big one; we made TV, 20/20," he said. "The NRA spent $10 million, and we spent $800,000 and we beat them."
Colleagues in the 40th District, Del. Catherine E. Pugh and Del. Marshall Toby Goodwin, attended last night's event and expressed disbelief at the announcement. Both said it was too early to think about the possibility of running for Hughes' seat. Del. Salima S. Marriott, who did not attend, could not be reached.
"I will be talking with the senator," Pugh said. "I'm really sort of shocked right now."
Goodwin added, "I need to get past this period of total shock. He's been a true warrior for the city and for the 40th District."
"Throughout his long political career in Maryland, Ralph never wavered in his commitment to the citizens of Baltimore," Mayor Martin O'Malley said last night after learning of the announcement. "He fought hard every year in Annapolis for the city's agenda, particularly funding for Baltimore's schools and drug treatment. His solid commitment and professional demeanor will be sorely missed."
Hughes will be at least the seventh senator, and sixth Democrat, not returning to the 47-member chamber after the 2006 election. Democratic Sens. Sharon M. Grosfeld and Leonard H. Teitelbaum of Montgomery County, Leo E. Green of Prince George's County, Philip C. Jimeno of Anne Arundel County and Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County have announced they are not running for re-election. Sen. John J. Hafer, a Western Maryland Republican, has also announced he will retire from the Senate.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, of which Hughes is a member, said his retirement will be "a major loss for the Senate and for Baltimore City."
"I think he is a wonderful public servant, and I'm very disappointed that he is retiring," Frosh said. "He's probably the most underrated person in the Senate. He's very quiet, and being quiet is a very unusual quality for a politician. He's principled, he's smart, he's personable."
Before he leaves the Senate in the fall, Hughes said, he would like for a special session to be called to craft legislation that would freeze BGE rates for the next year, reconfigure the Public Service Commission and stop the merger between Constellation Energy and Florida-based FPL Group Inc.
"That is what I'd like to be my swan song," Hughes said.