With State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler running for state attorney general, McCarthy, a Rockville resident, has been considered the frontrunner in the race. Fox, who lives in Bethesda, filed last year and has campaigned steadily to increase his name recognition in a county where he has never worked as a prosecutor nor run for office before this race.
McCarthy has helped manage the State’s Attorney’s Office since 1989 and has picked up the endorsements of more than 20 community organizations.
‘‘They know me because I was down working on different issues with them,” said McCarthy, a schoolteacher before becoming a prosecutor who has taught for 28 years at Montgomery College.
McCarthy said the county had the first gang prosecutor of any prosecutor’s office in the state. He sees fighting the gang problem as more than just prosecutions: There should be emphasis at schools to suppress gang activities and to add programs so children have other activities to turn to. ‘‘It’s almost shocking to see how easy it is [for gangs] to catch them,” McCarthy said.
For defendants identified as gang members, prosecutors should seek jail time for all crimes, McCarthy said. ‘‘Look, the State’s Attorney’s Office can’t solve the problem, but we have a role to take in solving the problem,” he said.
Gangs are the reason Fox decided to run for office. ‘‘I’m running for state’s attorney because I grew up in this county, I love this county,” said Fox, who moved back to Montgomery County after working as a prosecutor in California.
In 2005, a rash of gang violence spurred him to get involved politically. ‘‘I’m like the private citizen who sees something and gets a zeal. Either ‘I’m going to get this pool for the community’ or ‘I’m going to stop this road,’” Fox said. ‘‘With me, it was the gangs.”
Fox worked in Riverside, Calif., for eight years as a criminal prosecutor, including three years specializing in gang prosecutions.
Fox and McCarthy differ on how the State’s Attorney’s Office should be organized. McCarthy believes in continuing the current system with most prosecutors assigned to different communities. Fox said he would have prosecutors specialize in specific crimes.
Fox, who has an MBA and now works as a business consultant, also believes the office should be better organized to get the best use of the prosecutors’ time. Most paperwork could be handled by staff to allow the prosecutors more time to focus on the cases, he said.
Fox also said he would work as an administrator in the office and not prosecute cases. ‘‘If I was state’s attorney, I’d want someone like John McCarthy trying my cases,” he said.
McCarthy said the office is better managed than Fox claims. He said he mentors the younger attorneys, and if he wins the race, he would continue to prosecute cases occasionally.
The Democrats also differ on the death penalty. Fox said he would seek it when appropriate. McCarthy said he is not a proponent of the death penalty. ‘‘I recognize it’s a legal option,” McCarthy said. ‘‘I do not rule out absolutely I wouldn’t. If a terrorist attack blew up the county courthouse and killed thousands of people, obviously you’d think about the death penalty.” But McCarthy said the death penalty doesn’t deter crime.
The winner of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary will face Montgomery Village defense attorney James F. Shalleck, a former New York prosecutor who is unopposed in the GOP primary. Shalleck supports the death penalty and would organize prosecutors around specific crimes.