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Ulysses Currie, a former Democratic state senator from Prince George's County, has died. Once the chairman of the important Budget and Taxation Committee, he was later censured for allegedly using his political position to help the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain, which was paying him as a consultant.
Ulysses Currie, a former Democratic state senator from Prince George's County, has died. Once the chairman of the important Budget and Taxation Committee, he was later censured for allegedly using his political position to help the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain, which was paying him as a consultant. (Baltimore Sun file photo)

Ulysses Currie, a teacher-turned-politician from Prince George’s County who rose to leadership in the Maryland Senate before losing power in an ethics scandal, died at his home in Forestville early Friday.

Currie was 84, according to a statement Friday afternoon from his family. A cause of death and funeral arrangements were not immediately available. His death was announced in a statement from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

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Currie, a Democrat, was a sharecropper’s son who became an educator and later worked his way up the political ladder to chair the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee.

He was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2010 for allegedly using his political position to help the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain. Currie was acquitted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges the next year, but his colleagues formally censured him on the Senate floor in 2012 and he was stripped of his leadership positions.

His influence waning, Currie announced his resignation from office in 2016 — only to take it back less than a month later. Currie ended up serving out the remainder of that term, and did not run for re-election in 2018.

In his final legislative session in 2018, Currie drew some attention for having his wife, the Rev. Shirley A. Gravely-Currie, often by his side, including on the floor of the Senate chamber.

Despite his ethics troubles, Currie was praised by his colleagues for his work on behalf of Prince George’s and his mentorship of aspiring politicians.

Miller, the longtime Democratic Senate president, said in his statement Friday that Currie’s life “is the story of the best of our state and this country.”

“He was a valued member of the Senate, and was loved by all who came in contact with him,” Miller said. “He was a colleague, a mentor and a friend, and I will miss him very much.”

Sen. Melony Griffith, a Democrat who represents Currie’s old district, said Currie was “one of the most beloved” elected officials in Prince George’s.

“It is hard to find someone to speak an unkind word about him because he was so well-loved by everyone,” Griffith said.

Griffith said Currie was often focused on improving the quality of education and had a special interest in offering children opportunities to learn to play chess.

“His loss will be felt in the community by all whose life he touched,” Griffith said.

Currie was born in Whiteville, in southeastern North Carolina, according to his state biography. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies and history at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State College, spent four years in the U.S. Army and went on to earn a master’s degree in education at American University in Washington. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.

During a speech in 2015, Currie recalled how he was pushed to pursue higher education.

“I’m out in the field, working with farmers ... And they said to me: ‘Boy, you’ve got to get some learning,'” Currie said. “That’s how I got here today. I was working in the field, and those folks couldn’t read or write, but they said to me: ‘Boy, you’ve got to go get some learning.’"

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Currie was a teacher, principal and supervisor of the Head Start program in Prince George’s during a career as an educator that spanned more than 30 years.

Currie began serving in the House of Delegates in 1987 and made the move to the Senate in 1995. In 2003, he was given the budget committee chairmanship, a key leadership post.

Currie held the position until 2010, when he was indicted on federal charges related to his consulting work with Shoppers. After his acquittal in 2011 came the Senate’s censure — something Currie voted for himself.

“I’m a person with flaws, and I do have weaknesses,” Currie said as he apologized to his colleagues. “I have become a stronger person and, hopefully, a better person.”

Currie won re-election twice after the Shoppers scandal, in 2010 and 2014, though he no longer had the influence he once wielded. Still, in 2015, he was honored with the Senate’s First Citizen Award, given to Marylanders who are “dedicated and effective participants in the process of making government work for the benefit of all."

In Currie’s final legislative session in 2018, he sponsored a bill requiring the governor to fund the state’s Head Start program with at least $3 million each year. As the legislation made its way through the process, lawmakers revised it to name the program the “Ulysses Currie Head Start Program." That bill became law later that year.

His family said in a statement Friday: “Senator Currie was known as a mentor and selfless public servant, and as a fierce advocate for education, including expanding access to Head Start, which his colleagues named after him in 2018. He leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership which will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”

In addition to his wife, Currie is survived by his sons, Michael Currie and Aris Currie, as well as two grandchildren.

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