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Ulysses Currie, who represented Prince George's County in Senate, resigns

Ulysses Currie, the sharecropper's son who rose to the top budget position in the Maryland Senate, resigned Friday after representing Prince George's County in the General Assembly for nearly 30 years.

In a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Currie said his health would no longer permit him to carry out his duties "with the strength and energy you all deserve." A former teacher and principal, he had held his Senate seat since 1995. Before that, he had served as a member of the House of Delegates since 1987.

Currie, 79, wrote in his resignation letter that he was proud to have fought for education funding while in Annapolis.

"Even in the worst of economic times ... we took the tough action needed to keep our education promises," he wrote.

Currie, a Democrat, reached the peak of his influence in Annapolis in 2003, when he became chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

He held that position until 2010, when he was indicted on federal corruption charges. Prosecutors contended that he used his state office to advance the interests of Shoppers Food Warehouse at a time when he was on the company payroll as a consultant.

Currie was acquitted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in 2011, but a large part of his defense was that his actions on behalf of a grocery company should be considered violations of ethics rules rather than a crime.

The Senate censured him during the following session, and Miller stripped him of his leadership positions.

Currie voted in favor of his own censure and apologized to the Senate.

"I'm a person with flaws, and I do have weaknesses," he told his colleagues. "I have become a stronger person and hopefully a better person."

Currie was permitted to remain on the budget committee and twice won re-election after being charged, but never regained his former influence. In recent years he rarely spoke on the Senate floor.

Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, issued a statement saying he was "greatly saddened" to lose a "tremendous colleague."

"He served his country in the Army and is a true patriot and a gentleman who brought much-needed thoughtfulness and civility to the political world in Annapolis," Miller said. "I know the Maryland Senate will be a lesser place in his absence."

Despite his diminished influence in the Senate, Currie remained popular in his home district. In the 2014 Democratic primary, he turned back a strong challenger by winning 59 percent of the vote.

Currie's successor will be chosen by the local Democratic State Central Committee. Under the state constitution, the governor must appoint the person selected by the party of the legislator last elected to the seat.

One candidate who immediately expressed interest in the seat is former Del. Melony Griffith, a four-term lawmaker who lost to Currie in 2014. Griffith, 53, said she is "absolutely" a candidate.

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