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Laurie DeWitt⁄The GazetteCounty Councilman Thomas E. Perez told a crowd of about 75 supporters in downtown Silver Spring on Tuesday morning that ‘‘The new attorney general must be prepared to embrace uphill battles, make all the wrong enemies and challenge the safe confines of conventional wisdom.” He is the second elected official from Montgomery County to join the race.
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Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez announced his candidacy for Maryland attorney general on Tuesday, vowing to be an aggressive consumer advocate while promising leadership in the fight for civil rights, affordable health care and environmental protection.
Perez, a Democrat from Takoma Park who is completing his first term on the County Council, is the second Montgomery County elected official in the race to succeed J. Joseph Curran (D), who is retiring. Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) announced last week.
A former federal prosecutor and civil rights lawyer, Perez promised to fight on behalf of consumers and take on big business.
‘‘At no time have the fundamental rights and protections of Maryland’s consumers been under a more sustained attack than in recent years,” said Perez, 44, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. ‘‘These attacks have come from many different directions — from the mailbox to the inbox, from the doctor’s office to the rental office.”
As attorney general, Perez said he would expand access to health care and take on insurance companies, predatory lenders and the pharmaceutical industry to ‘‘develop innovative legal strategies for lowering the cost of prescription drugs.”
‘‘The new attorney general must be prepared to embrace uphill battles, make all the wrong enemies and challenge the safe confines of conventional wisdom,” Perez said in his speech to about 75 well-wishers.
Perez, who also held announcement events in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, was joined in Silver Spring by Stephen H. Sachs, attorney general from 1978 to 1986 and a major figure in the Baltimore legal establishment. Sachs said Perez would carry on his and Curran’s legacy in the office.
‘‘I am drawn to Tom Perez because of what I will call, simply, character,” Sachs said. ‘‘Character is difficult to define, but it is palpable nonetheless. You know it when you see it, and you notice when you don’t.”
Sachs admitted Perez’s underdog status compared with Gansler, who has raised $1.5 million compared to Perez’s $200,000. Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle (R) is running on the GOP ticket with the strong support of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
‘‘Is he the underdog, yes, but will he be the underdog on Labor Day? I hope not and I think not,” Sachs said in an interview.
Perez and Gansler are using different strategies in their bids for the Democratic nomination. Gansler and his supporters touted his law-and-order credentials as a way to appeal to centrist and moderate Democrats. Perez, meanwhile, is running as a progressive insurgent hoping to galvanize the liberal wing of the party.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda is also considering a run. A candidate from the Baltimore region is also expected to emerge, but Sachs said he has not heard from anyone interested.
‘‘It’s getting pretty late in the process,” Sachs said.
In 2002, Republicans scored a coup by fielding the state’s first successful biracial gubernatorial ticket. Four years later, both major Democratic tickets have African-American lieutenant governor candidates. With the Perez campaign, the Democrats can lay further claim to a diversified slate, as he is the only Hispanic candidate running statewide.
Perez said that he was counted out in his council bid four years ago, but the work ethic he picked up as the son of first-generation Dominican immigrants growing up in blue-collar Buffalo, N.Y., ‘‘breeds a certain resilience.”
A Harvard Law graduate, Perez said he paid his way through college as a garbage man and working in a Sears warehouse.
‘‘All we had was the power of good ideas, a dynamite grassroots following and the will to grind it out to the end — and we won,” Perez said. ‘‘So it was in 2002, and so it will be again this year.”
Several members of the County Council — including the only Republican, Howard Denis (R) — endorsed Perez on Tuesday, as did House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring and former Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah ‘‘Ike” Leggett, a former councilman and candidate for Montgomery County executive.
Perez’s campaign was saddled over the past few weeks by questions about his qualifications. The state constitution specifies that the attorney general must have practiced law in the state for 10 years. Assistant Attorney General Robert N. McDonald issued an opinion Friday that cleared Perez, a federal prosecutor from 1989 to 1999, to run.
That opinion could be challenged in court, as some of Perez’s opponents have promised.
Perez has picked up several key endorsements over the past few days that bring an important volunteer and donor base to his campaign.
The Maryland State Teachers Association endorsed him Saturday; the Service Employees International Union endorsed him Monday and the 21st Century Democrats — a national liberal advocacy group — has made the Perez campaign one of its 10 priorities for this cycle.
Thomas E. Perez
Maryland Attorney General
44, Takoma Park
Experience: Montgomery County Councilman, 2002-present; professor University of Maryland School of Law, 2001-present; director of the office for civil rights U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999-2001; prosecutor U.S. Department of Justice 1989-1999.
Issues: Seek consumer protections, access to affordable health care and prescription drugs; combat pollution, predatory lenders, price gougers
Correction, May 31, 2006:The original version of this report incorrectly said that the 2002 GOP ticket was the state's first biracial gubernatorial ticket. It should have said it was the first successful biracial ticket. The report has been corrected.