- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday unexpectedly quit his campaign for governor, saying his once-secret battle with depression forced him from the race.

“For over a year now, in the course of waging a vigorous and aggressive campaign, I’ve struggled with what has been recently diagnosed as depression,” Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, told a crowd of friends and supporters at a press conference in Rockville. “It is difficult for me to announce today that I will no longer be a candidate for governor of Maryland, but it is the right decision for me, my family and our state.”

Mr. Duncan, 50, who smiled broadly when greeted by a standing ovation, made the announcement in a three-minute prepared speech, then quickly exited without taking reporters’ questions. He plans to serve out his term as county executive, which ends this year, but will not seek an elected office for the first time in decades.

His abrupt exit clears the way for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley to pick up the now-uncontested Democratic nomination for governor and face Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in November.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman, who attended the press conference, said Mr. Duncan’s decision to quit was “like an early primary” that would boost Mr. O’Malley’s campaign against Mr. Ehrlich.

A poll in April by nonpartisan Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed Mr. O’Malley leading Mr. Ehrlich in a head-to-head race 46 percent to 41 percent, with 13 percent undecided.

Mr. Duncan, who had peppered Mr. O’Malley with attacks on Baltimore’s crime and education problems, yesterday endorsed his former rival. However, Duncan campaign staffers expressed doubt that supporters automatically would back Mr. O’Malley.

The end of Mr. Duncan’s run — after eight months on the campaign trail and about 12 weeks before the primary election — shocked his campaign staff, friends, supporters and politicians from both parties

“I was very surprised,” said Delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat. “I give him great credit for putting himself and his family first and talking about a problem that a lot of people struggle with but don’t talk about.”

Mr. Duncan’s disclosure at about 2 p.m. also raised more questions than answers and prompted wild speculation about whether he wanted to exit the race for other reasons.

“I think that’s pretty nasty,” Montgomery County Council member Michael L. Subin, at-large Democrat, said of such speculation. “The easiest thing for him to do is to just ignore it or … make up an excuse for not running. He sent a message to a lot of people to stand up and face your problems and you are not alone.”

A 2003 study by Harvard Medical School researchers found that roughly 6.6 percent of American adults — more than 19 million people — have depression each year and only about one-fifth get adequate treatment.

Mr. Duncan bowed out amid a busy campaign schedule.

He actively campaigned Tuesday, touting an endorsement from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and had a major fundraiser scheduled for last night, which also marked the 50th birthday of his wife, Barbara, which went on as planned.

Mr. Duncan was ushered through a side entrance of the venue, the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, as reporters waited in front to ask him questions.

Mr. Duncan’s announcement also came on the same day that Mr. Ehrlich vetoed the energy plan passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature last week in a special session. The partisan clash over the energy plan, which aims to stave off a 72 percent rate increase by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., will be a key issue in the contest between Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Ehrlich said he was saddened to learn of Mr. Duncan’s health concerns and wished him well.

“Doug is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word,” the governor said. “He embodies the personal decency and graciousness Marylanders deserve from their public servants.”

Mr. O’Malley said he told Mr. Duncan he would be praying for him and his family as they deal with the medical issues.

“Doug is an outstanding public servant,” Mr. O’Malley said. He also said Mr. Duncan “will continue to contribute even more in the coming campaign and in government.”

Mr. Duncan said other members of his family also have had depression.

Campaign spokeswoman Jody H. Couser acknowledged that Mr. Duncan had “close family members” who battled depression but declined to elaborate.

She said Mr. Duncan recently was diagnosed with clinical depression and is being treated by a mental-health professional. She declined to say whether he was taking medication.

Clinical depression is a medical diagnosis and refers to sadness for an extended period that is profound enough to disrupt a person’s daily life. Such depression is severe enough to require treatment.

The disorder also has hurt other politicians and in at least one case resulted in death.

In May 1993, D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson committed suicide after suffering from depression.

In 1972, Sen. Thomas Francis Eagleton, Missouri Democrat, was replaced as the running mate of Sen. George S. McGovern, South Dakota Democrat, in the presidential race after acknowledging that he had been hospitalized for nervous exhaustion and that he had received electric shock therapy.

“I’ve had the privilege and honor of meeting people from every corner of the state who share my view that we do not settle for things the way they are,” Mr. Duncan said. “I still believe we can move Maryland forward to better things, that we can create a state of greatness. But today I need to say that I will not be leading that effort.”

Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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