Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wynn to leave Congress before finishing term

District 4 veteran to join law firm in June; plans for seat uncertain months before general election

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U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn is leaving Congress in June to take a position with a Washington law firm four months after losing his re-election bid in February.

Wynn’s resignation is effective in June, seven months before the end of his term in January 2009. He will join Dickstein Shapiro LLP.

Donna Edwards defeated Wynn 60 percent to 35 percent. She faces Republican Peter James for Wynn’s seat in a general election in November. Edwards first ran for the seat in 2006 and came within a few percentage points of defeating Wynn.

In announcing his resignation March 27, Wynn, 56, said his early departure from the district, which includes parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, would help Edwards in a potential special election to replace him. However, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) told Democratic leaders that he is not sure he will call a special election and that he is going to take time to look at all the options, said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.

Wynn’s statement read: ‘‘My leaving early will allow ... Edwards the opportunity to successfully navigate a special election and be sworn in this summer. This will not only give her seniority in the incoming Congressional class of 2009, but more importantly, will allow her to get off to a fast start in serving the citizens of our community.”

Edwards was unavailable for comment.

‘‘In the spirit of a dedicated public servant, Congressman Wynn is looking out for the interest of his constituents and I commend him for that,” Edwards said in a statement.

Wynn’s announcement caught many lawmakers off guard and the process for filling his seat still undetermined.

Under the timetable Wynn announced for his departure, O’Malley may ‘‘allow the office to remain vacant for the remainder of the term,” as provided in Maryland election law, Paulson said.

‘‘It just happened so quickly, we haven’t had time to run the constitutional traps on that one,” the governor told reporters during a press conference in Annapolis.

O’Malley spoke with Wynn earlier March 27 about his resignation.

‘‘I wish him well and I thank him for his service to the people of this state. He was in public office for some 25 years, so we congratulate him on his move to the private sector and thank him for his public service,” he said.

The clock for setting a special election depends on when Wynn leaves office. State law says a special election cannot be held until the seat is vacant.

If O’Malley decided to hold a special election for the seat, the primary could be held as early as July and the general election as early as August.

But the House goes on recess Aug. 11 and does not return until Sept. 5. On Sept. 26, three weeks later, the House goes on recess until after the election.

So O’Malley has to decide whether it would be worthwhile to hold a special election — estimated to cost the state well over $1 million — in order to put a District 4 representative in the House for three weeks.

One consideration is whether to risk not having a District 4 representative to vote on issues that could come before Congress in that short period.

Before making a recommendation to the governor the state party also must weigh the options, Paulson said.

‘‘But it remains his decision,” Paulson added.

A possible special election to replace Wynn follows another special election scheduled next month to replace Montgomery County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner, who died after complications with heart surgery on Feb. 1. The council special election — limited to just once council district in one county — will cost more than $1.2 million.

James, the Republican challenger, said Thursday he thought it was ‘‘pretty amazing” that Wynn would step down during a time of a weak national economy.

‘‘Given the state of finances, having a special election may or may not be a wise choice. It certainly doesn’t help the people,” he said.

James already has requested a meeting with O’Malley regarding plans for the seat. If a special election is held, James has not determined whether he would participate.

‘‘It’s politics as usual,” he said. ‘‘It’s a shame that the voters have to go through this kind of foolishness.”

With a political career dating back to the 1970s, Wynn was long considered a kingmaker in Prince George’s County politics until his run ended in 2006 with Edwards running on a platform critical of his vote to authorize the Iraq War.

Since then, Wynn tried to recapture supporters, but kept losing ground. In her second challenge this year, several unions switched their endorsements to Edwards, echoing her platform that Wynn’s votes for several Bush administration bills left him at odds with constituents.

Though they would not endorse Edwards publicly, several prominent county politicians, including County Executive Jack B. Johnson, did not actively campaign for Wynn in the Feb. 12 primary.

‘‘[Johnson] had not heard about it. He was surprised,” said Johnson spokesman James Keary. ‘‘We wish him well on his endeavor.”

Edwards’ supporters Thursday called Wynn’s early exit ‘‘a very classy move.”

‘‘It makes a lot of sense,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville. ‘‘This gives our counties a freshman with a little more seniority. She’ll have time for her and her staff to make the transition.”

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who supported Wynn and lended his voice to robocalls for the congressman, also thought Wynn’s early resignation was a good move for a smooth leadership transition.

‘‘Al Wynn has done a terrific job for this county and for Maryland. I think his leadership will be missed on the issues,” said Leggett (D). ‘‘It’s with mixed emotions I have to see him leave early.”

In his new position at the law firm, Wynn will be headquartered at the firms’ District office, said Andrew Zausner, head of the firm’s Government, Law and Strategies Group, of which Wynn will be a member.

The firm has about 400 lawyers and 800 employees and has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

‘‘We sought him out,” Zausner said. ‘‘We have a number of partners here who were classmates of his at Georgetown Law School. We were obviously following his race and after he lost the primary, one of his classmates asked him about his next steps. And he decided he’d like to talk about it sooner rather than later.”

Staff Writers Daniel Valentine, Margie Hyslop, Marcus Moore, Alan Brody and C. Benjamin Ford contributed to this report.