First of three profiles of Democratic candidates for attorney general
To say he's running for attorney general is an understatement.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, 43, started laying the groundwork for state office five years ago, before his first term as a county prosecutor had ended.
While incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr. kept many potential candidates at bay as he contemplated seeking a sixth term, Gansler, a Democrat, raised money and traveled the state to make himself known. By the time Curran made his decision in June that he would retire, Gansler had amassed nearly $1.5 million.
Now unleashed and able to campaign nearly full time, even his aides have trouble keeping up with him. On a recent broiling Sunday afternoon, a campaign worker panted as she chased after Gansler, who was knocking on doors in a Baltimore neighborhood.
Supporters and detractors alike say Gansler displays ambition - a characterization he does not shy away from. Gansler says his ambition is to be attorney general.
"You should seek the job you want to do, and do the best job you can do," the prosecutor said during a recent interview in his Rockville office.
Critics raise far fewer questions about the operation of his $11.2 million office than they do about how a photogenic, young former federal prosecutor leapt out of nowhere and in front of the television cameras.
"I would be worrying that he will be making decisions as attorney general for the state based on publicity he can garner," said Daniel Clements, a trial lawyer and Democratic activist who supports of one of Gansler's primary opponents, Stuart O. Simms.
Outside of legal circles, however, the publicity that Gansler often generates is far less controversial.
"Some are going to think it's self-promotion, and some are going to think it's useful information," said Wayne Goldstein, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.
"It's a little bit stale and old school to think you just quietly prosecute these cases and you don't try to speak to the public about what you do," said Richard "Jake" Siewert, a former Clinton spokesman who befriended Gansler when both were at Yale University. "Look, does anyone criticize [New York State Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer for his critique of Wall Street? Yeah, but they have self-interests."
If elected, Gansler said he would focus on consumer, public safety and environmental protections.
He has promised to take aim at Internet criminals, identity thieves and out-of-state and Maryland polluters of state waterways that reach the Chesapeake Bay. He says he also seeks greater coordination among authorities in dealing with terrorism.
He would ask legislators to adopt a price-gouging law to aid consumers (something Curran also sought), as well as a federal-style racketeering law to use against gangs.
"People understand that we have a burgeoning gang issue" in Maryland, he said.
Gansler was born Oct. 30, 1962, in Summit, N.J., to Jacques and Alison Gansler.
His father held several high-level positions in Washington, including undersecretary of acquisitions for the Defense Department during the Clinton administration, a connection that has given Gansler access to influential contacts.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was a featured guest at one of Gansler's fundraisers; a friend, Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat considering a presidential run, is scheduled to headline another next month.
Gansler graduated from Sidwell Friends School in Washington and received his undergraduate degree from Yale, where he was an All-Ivy lacrosse player. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989.
Gansler joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington in 1992, and left there six years later, joining the private practice of his former homicide unit boss, David Schertler, while running for Montgomery County state's attorney.
"He is just fundamentally very intelligent and very perceptive," Schertler said. He said Gansler worked hard nailing down details.
While working as a U.S. attorney, he volunteered to help review cases of possible discrimination being considered by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His frank assessments earned the respect of Linda Plummer, former president of the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP and a current House of Delegates candidate, who said she valued Gansler's insights even when his thoughts clashed with hers.
"It really opened my eyes into how the justice system operates," Plummer said.
Gansler won office in 1998 having never tried a criminal case in Maryland, and quickly found himself at the center of high-profile prosecutions.
Those have included the 1999 jailing of boxer Mike Tyson for a Gaithersburg road-rage incident a year earlier; and the 2004 attempted murder conviction of a teenager who shot and paralyzed county police officer Kyle Olinger during a Silver Spring traffic stop.
The shooters were tried first and convicted in Virginia, and Gansler found himself defending his decision to proceed with the Maryland case against Muhammad in May. Gansler maintains that another conviction was needed in case Muhammad's Virginia death sentence is overturned.
His readiness to speak out has rattled a few cages, and he was the subject of a complaint about pretrial remarks to reporters in several cases.
In 2003, the Maryland Court of Appeals reprimanded him for his comments, issuing its first written clarification of lawyer rules for pretrial publicity.
Gansler maintains the complaint lodged against him - the identity of the person lodging it is confidential - was politically motivated.
"The biggest criticism is that I have opened the doors and let people know what is going on in the courthouse," he said.
Gansler promotes the new programs he brought to the prosecutor's office. He instituted a ban against lenient plea bargains for first-time drunken drivers - angering defense lawyers. Making good on a promise to increase diversity, Gansler hired the county's first Asian-American prosecutor.
He helped institute a specialized domestic violence court docket; started a program that resolves nine out of 10 bad check cases out of court; created Maryland's first prosecutor focused on gang-related crimes; and developed office expertise in the growing problem of Internet crime.
Gansler promises similar innovations in the state attorney general's office, which has been run by the same leader since 1987.
But first he has to get elected. Gansler embraces the world of politics. During high school, he was a Capitol Hill intern for former Sen. Birch Bayh, an Indiana Democrat and Evan Bayh's father. His wife, author Laura Leedy Gansler, recalls going door to door with him on a date 15 years ago as he volunteered in Martin O'Malley's Baltimore City Council campaign.
If he is defeated, it won't be for lack of energy.
On a recent steamy evening, he takes a spare hour to go door-knocking in his own neighborhood, debating whether he should go to a house that already has a red Gansler sign but is not checked off on his voter list.
"I feel like I have to," he says, running up the walkway.
Douglas F. Gansler
Date of birth:
Oct. 30, 1962
elected Montgomery County state's attorney in 1998; re-elected in 2002; as assistant U.S. attorney 1992 to 1998, prosecuted cases in homicide, drug-trafficking, public corruption, sex-abuse and other offenses.
Sidwell Friends; Yale University; University of Virginia law school
College lacrosse player and lacrosse coach; married to Laura Leedy Gansler (author of several books, including Class Action, which was made into the movie North Country); lives in Bethesda with wife and sons Sam, 11, and Will, 9.
Maryland's death penalty law and carrying out executions have been the subject of much discussion. Do you personally favor the death penalty? Do you think Maryland should have the death penalty? And as attorney general, what would you advise legislators on the issue?
I believe that the death penalty is appropriate for only the most heinous and egregious crimes. The death penalty should be implemented only when the crime is particularly egregious, the guilt of the defendant is absolutely certain, and there is no doubt that both the defendant will be prosecuted and sentenced in a completely fair, socioeconomically and race-neutral manner. My office prosecutes approximately 35,000 cases each year, only a handful of those cases are death penalty eligible. Thus, we must hold people accountable and treat them fairly in ... every one of those cases.
One of the roles of attorney general is to defend state law. What are your personal views of same-sex marriage, and what are your views as an attorney? Briefly describe how you would defend the marriage law, as it relates to the appeal that will be heard toward the end of this year by the Court of Appeals.
Maryland's law defines marriage as between a man and woman; but it is important that domestic partnership laws are upheld and that all people have full access to health care and other legal, professional and financial protections. As the attorney general, I would be required to defend the current law fully and completely. Personally, I don't believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason and that everyone should receive the full measure of constitutional protections; that is how I conduct my personal and professional life and that is the standard I would aspire to uphold as attorney general.
The attorney general's office has responsibilities in many areas. What area - if any -would you choose for increased focus and why?
I would prioritize the areas of public safety, the environment, and consumer protection. As a federal prosecutor and state's attorney, I have spent the past 14 years on the front lines. We need a RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] statute to bring down gangs in a wholesale fashion; to combat the underbelly of the Internet, including snaring Internet sexual predators; and tackle identity theft. I will conduct an environmental audit, whereby we go mile-by-mile of our waterways and the bay and prosecute polluters. We must protect our citizens from ... corporations, energy companies, insurance companies and drug manufacturers that don't play by the rules.