- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Treasurer Richard Dixon announced yesterday that he would resign Feb. 1 because of declining health.

His decision caught legislators, who elect the state treasurer, by surprise. Many said they learned he was leaving less than an hour before his announcement.

During the past year, diabetes had caused him to lose sight in one eye, and complications of the disease had already required amputation of a toe, Mr. Dixon said.

"You reach a point sometimes when you can't do a job in the manner in which you were used to doing it," said Mr. Dixon, who unashamedly and often referred to himself as "the greatest treasurer in America."

"I didn't want to stay on and perhaps have to step down when the General Assembly was out of session," said Mr. Dixon, 63.

The former stockbroker, a Carroll County Democrat, made history when the legislature elected him from the House of Delegates in 1996 to become the state's first black treasurer.

His aggressive investing helped bring the state pension fund to full funding 20 years ahead of target.

But the pension fund suffered a $3 billion loss last year, and some officials were upset that Mr. Dixon had not pulled back in a plummeting stock market.

The loss was not well received by lawmakers already faced with declining revenue because of the recession, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat, said legislative leaders had not pressured Mr. Dixon to leave.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Dixon's decision not to change the state's investment course wasn't bad, but that making the call unilaterally was.

"It's important to build consensus Richard, because of his superior knowledge in the investment field, felt he could tell people what decision he was making and expect them to sign on," Mr. Miller said.

Earlier this month, the pension board decided to hire an investment consultant.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, and Mr. Miller said they will begin interviewing candidates for treasurer as soon as possible.

Mr. Miller said he hopes the legislature can elect a successor by Feb. 2 to avoid holding up contracts that must be approved by the three-member Board of Public Works. The treasurer often has to cast a deciding vote because the other two members, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, disagree.

Mr. Miller and many House members have tried to persuade Mr. Taylor to consider the job.

Whoever is elected treasurer would have to stand for re-election after a new legislature is sworn in next year.

Mr. Taylor said he is not interested in the job. And lawmakers said it is possible that they would elect someone who would step aside if Mr. Taylor decided to run for treasurer after the election.

However, there is speculation that Mr. Taylor is among those that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is considering asking to be her running mate in this year's gubernatorial race. She has not yet declared.

And yesterday's developments renewed maneuvering among those who have hoped to succeed Mr. Taylor as House speaker. The presumed front-runner is House Economic Matters Chairman Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Mr. Miller said he believes a delegate from Montgomery County, perhaps Nancy Kopp or Ways and Means Chairman Sheila Hixson, will be elected.

Some black legislators say they hope to promote a minority candidate, but no one has emerged as a consensus figure.

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