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Frank DeFilippo: All in the Family

The Curran-O’Malley clan, or, O’Malley-Curran, if you prefer, has elevated to an art form pubic service for private employment. It’s nice work, if you can get it – and at least 12 of them have – easy, and many uneasy, hours, a decent paycheck and generous retirement benefits.

And now a 13th member of the extended family is up and ready to grab the golden ring, this time an in-law, J. D. Merrill, husband of former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s (D) daughter, Grace. They were married in 2016, when O’Malley was a presidential might-have-been and two years after he finished his legal limit of two consecutive terms as governor. (Yes, he can run for governor again now that the sequential terms are separated.)

But the O’Malleys and the Currans aren’t the only Kennedy dynastic seem-alikes who’ve made Maryland government payrolls a family affair. Close behind by about half in ebony and ivory Baltimore are the Cardins and the Conaways, families separated by boundaries, color and wealth. The family of U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) has had at least five members, including his father, a judge, on the public payroll. And the family of former Del. Frank M. Conaway (D) had four simultaneously – himself as clerk of the court, his wife, as register of wills, his son and his daughter.

Right up front, an asterisk (*) is necessary. The Currans herein are no relation to the legendary supreme boss of Baltimore politics, William “Papa” Curran, a distinguished attorney who dominated the city’s Irish political machine through the Depression era and well into the late 1940s until he was eased aside by the Jewish political boss James H. Jack Pollack. Back in the day, the political machine’s only mission was the preservation of the machine.

Frank A. DeFilippo

Begin with the Currans and the O’Malley’s, who bonded and prospered through marriage. Both families’ public employment bloodlines can be traced, as far as can be determined, to two grandfathers – J. Joseph Curran Sr., a longtime member of the Baltimore City Council and leader of a major political faction in Northeast Baltimore’s old Third District, and Martin O’Malley’s fraternal grandfather (name unknown) who was an employee of the IRS in the District of Columbia.

Curran Sr. begat a son and namesake, J. Joseph Curran Jr., who was a longtime member of the House of Delegates and state Senate from Baltimore, lieutenant governor for one term under Gov. Harry R. Hughes (D) and five-term attorney general before deciding to give up elective office to clear the way for his son in-law, Martin O’Malley, to run for governor. Curran Jr., despite his age, moved on to further government employment in a high-level position at the quasi-public Maryland Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund.

Curran’s two brothers, Martin Mike Curran and Robert Curran, each in his turn, succeeded Curran, the father, to what literally became the family seat on the Baltimore City Council. And a cousin, Gerald Curran, also from the same neck of the woods and the same family political clubhouse, served for many years in the House of Delegates until he was forced out in a reckless scandal involving his private sector work as an insurance broker.

The Currans and the O’Malleys intersected at the altar in what developed to appear more of a merger than a marriage. Thomas O’Malley, father of Martin O’Malley, had been an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Following that public job, he settled in as a lawyer in Rockville, in Montgomery County, where he later ran for state’s attorney twice – first as a Democrat and again as a Republican, losing in 1994 and 1998.

His son, Martin, married Katie Curran, daughter of J. Joseph Curran Jr. Martin began public employment as an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore. He advanced to elective office as a City Council member, two terms as mayor and two terms as governor. (O’Malley’s first run for elective office was for the state Senate. He lost by 44 votes.) Meantime, Katie, his wife, got herself appointed a judge on the Baltimore City District Court where she specializes in domestic violence cases.

And yet another Curran progeny, Max, was appointed to the Public Service Commission after an unsuccessful run for the House of Delegates, where, as one of five commissioners, he oversaw regulatory issues. But back in private practice during his brother in-law’s governorship, (Max) Curran was hired by Constellation Energy to help ease the way for its merger with Exelon during O’Malley’s one-man war over utility deregulation.

O’Malley’s brother Peter, also an attorney, went to work as chief of staff for one-time Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith (D), in part, to help organize the county for his brother’s campaign for governor. Peter later became chief of staff for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) at Baltimore City Hall and did a stint as chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. He is now back in private law practice. And yes, he specializes in government relations.

And to keep it all in the family, O’Malley’s mother, Barbara, had been a Capitol Hill presence for 27 years as receptionist for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D).

So comes now Merrill, the latest generation, following the family tradition, who’s running for the Senate seat recently abandoned by the sticky-fingered Nathaniel T. Oaks (D) and replenished with Jill P. Carter (D), herself on the carousel between appointive and elective government jobs.

Merrill had been a teacher at Baltimore City College, with a string of alphabet soup behind his name. He later became a special assistant to the chief of staff of the Baltimore City Public Schools and, by all accounts, highly regarded on the campaign circuit in the city’s 41st District, which brackets such contrasting neighborhoods as the greensward of Roland Park to the ramshackle rowhouses of Edmondson Avenue.

For her part, Carter, a former delegate and now sworn in as a state senator, resigned her position as director of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights because legally she was prohibited from serving in both positions at once. She did say, however, she’d accept a position as deputy director of the OCR, which suggests she’s comfortable being on two public payrolls simultaneously.

Carter’s principal claim is her birthright as the daughter of civil rights auteur Walter Carter. He, not she, is usually Carter’s talking-point.

Politics and/or work, it’s all in the family.


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Frank DeFilippo: All in the Family