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Ulysses Currie, Former Chairman of State Senate Budget Panel, Dies

The late Sen. Ulysses S. Currie (D-Prince George’s) during the last of his 32 legislative sessions in 2018. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Former state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie (D), a pioneering, mild-mannered lawmaker and mentor to younger colleagues who later ran afoul of the law, died early Friday morning after a lengthy illness. He was 84.

Currie was the son of North Carolina sharecroppers who became a prominent educator in Prince George’s County after a stint in the U.S. Army. He served in the Maryland General Assembly for 32 years, retiring in 2018.

“Senator Currie’s story is the story of the best of our state and this country,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said in a statement Friday. “He grew up the son of a sharecropper in North Carolina, and was the first in his family to graduate from college. After serving in the US Army, he received his Masters degree in education and spent 30 years as a teacher and principal in Prince George’s County.”

Currie was elected to House of Delegates in 1986 and won a Senate seat in 1994. He spent seven years as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, where he was a strong advocate for education funding and the Head Start program and seen as a conciliator with an open-door policy, in contrast to some of his predecessors, who ruled the powerful panel with an iron fist.

“Over the last 9 years in elected office, I’ve not come across a more kind and caring legislator,” Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the presumptive next Senate president, said in a tweet.

Currie also mentored several younger members of the legislature — especially fellow Prince Georgians like Anthony G. Brown (D), who went on to become lieutenant governor and a member of Congress; Dereck E. Davis (D), now chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee; Aisha N. Braveboy (D), who became Prince George’s County state’s attorney; and Melony G. Griffith (D), who now holds his old Senate seat (and lost a Democratic primary to him in 2014).

“He was a valued member of the Senate, and was loved by all who came in contact with him,” Miller said.

But Currie was indicted by federal authorities in 2010 for consulting work he did for Shoppers Food Warehouse, the grocery store chain. He was accused of accepting bribes for the company in exchange for political favors, but wound up being acquitted in 2011.

He was censured by the Senate for not reporting his consulting work and the nearly $250,000 in income he received on ethics forms or informing state authorities of his work. He was also stripped of his gavel on the budget panel, diminishing his influence in Annapolis.

Still, voters of Prince George’s County’s 25th District returned him to office two more times, in 2010 and 2014; state Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement Friday that colleagues “admired his resilient character, and were guided by his expert leadership on some of the Assembly’s most powerful committees.”

Citing his failing health, Currie announced his intention to resign from the Senate in late 2016, but then rescinded his resignation when local Democratic leaders could not settle on a replacement. Currie’s wife Shirley Gravely-Currie, a minister and Howard University administrator, was among those seeking his seat.

“Since my announcement, it has been nothing but petty political jockeying and deal-making with only the 2018 election in mind,” Currie wrote in a letter to Miller explaining his decision to stay on. He lamented that the vacancy had created “a level of divisiveness and discord I have rarely seen in Prince George’s County and which I cannot allow to continue.”

During Currie’s final session, in 2018, his wife sat near him almost daily on the Senate floor and participated in some meetings reserved for lawmakers.

On her Facebook page Friday, Braveboy said Currie “will be missed, but not forgotten.”

In addition to his wife, Currie is survived by a son, Michael Currie, a daughter, Aris Currie, and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending as of Friday night.

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Ulysses Currie, Former Chairman of State Senate Budget Panel, Dies