Inside City Hall: Wearing Baltimore politics on his back

2013 will mark a 60-year span of Currans on the Council.

bobby curran’s jacket

Robert W. Curran displays his varsity letterman jacket after last week’s Board of Estimates meeting.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

When City Councilman Bobby Curran tells us that his black-and-yellow varsity letterman jacket is the only one in the world to have the Baltimore City Seal emblazoned on its backside, we are inclined to believe him.

For Bob is not only a repository of facts and folklore about local civics (“I’m a political junkie”), but also a living, breathing symbol of its culture.

He’s a Curran, in other words, a family synonymous with Baltimore politics.

There’s been a Curran holding a seat in the same northeast district of the City Council (with a brief interregnum) since 1953.

Between his dad, J. Joseph Curran Sr., his brother Martin E. “Mike” Curran and Bob, the family’s tenure on the City Council will stretch across six decades in the new year. And Bobby’s current term – his fifth – won’t be over until December 2016.

Bossing Around

Back in 1953, when Bobby was 3 years old and his dad was appointed to the Council following the death of Sam DeWees (there’s a rec center named after him), Baltimore was ruled by political clubs and family dynasties.

George W. Della Sr. presided over South Baltimore by virtue of the Stonewall Democratic Club. Tommy D’Alesandro Sr. held sway over Little Italy and Highlandtown. Jack Pollock was the boss of Park Heights through his Trenton Democratic Club.

On the Westside, Irv Kovens pulled strings from the back room of his furniture store, while Victorine Q. Adams was making headway in the world of white-only “b’hoys” with her Colored Women’s Democratic Campaign Council.

All of these organizations are now defunct, the families and bosses associated with them ancient history. All but the Currans.

The Currans have blossomed since their low point of 1959 when Joe Sr. was thrown under the bus (or in those days, trolley) as the D’Alesandro machine was ambushed by Kovens and his confederates (Irving “Tubby” Schwartz and Philip Goodman), only to return triumphant to the Council in 1963.

These internecine struggles among city Democrats were dubbed “donnybrooks” and were covered with great gusto by the old Evening Sun and News-American.

Never Again

A Curran has never lost a local city election since then.

In 1977, Bobby’s brother, Martin E. “Mike” Curran, succeeded Joe Sr., who had become a City Hall martyr when he suffered a heart attack watching fellow Councilman Dominic M. Leone gunned down by a distraught restaurant owner carrying a .39-caliber revolver in a paper bag.

The Leone assassination took place on April 13, 1976; Curran died of heart-related complications 10 months later.

Mike reigned for 22 years, then handed over the keys to Bobby.

History’s other great political dynasties were known to confer these handed-down powers through bejeweled swords or golden scepters, but this was Baltimore.

Bobby got the letterman jacket with the city’s seal from Mike after his easy victory in the 1995 Democratic primary.

Bob was three years old when the first Curran ascended to the City Council. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Bob was three years old when the first Curran ascended to the City Council. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

When a Curran meets an O’Malley

Before and after this time, Bobby’s older brother, Joe Jr., was solidifying the family’s future by serving in the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate, followed by stints as lieutenant governor and Maryland attorney general.

Joe Jr.’s political drive rubbed off on his youngest daughter, Catherine “Katie” Curran, who fell in love in law school with a winsome lad from Montgomery County who quickly embraced the Curran clan (as well as Katie).

Backed by Curran clout, Martin O’Malley worked his charm on Charm City.

After two terms on the City Council, O’Malley summoned up the luck of the Irish – bolstered by black bosslets like “Pete” Rawlings, father of the current mayor – to start his upward trajectory as two-term mayor of Baltimore, followed by his occupancy of the governor’s mansion in Annapolis.

At present, Katie is both Maryland’s First Lady and a Baltimore City District Court judge. Martin, of course, has his restless, blue-flecked eyes focused on the White House.

That leaves Bobby to watch over the family business at City Hall. A cheerful, back-slapping, fag-puffing gent who wears his power lightly under a black-and-yellow varsity letterman jacket.

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  • best_dems

    Well there are great political clubs that still exist in Baltimore and galvanizing future generations which is the B.E.S.T. Democratic Club. Check them out 

    • cwals99

       Looking at the people affiliated with the BEST Democratic Club it seems to be the farm team of the very Third Way corporate democratic politicians we want to vote out of office.  If your justice and labor leaders are not running fresh, labor-passionate people next election….those organizations are not working for you and me!

      Please do not wait for these organizations to give you a leader…..we need our leaders to come from our communities and we want them shouting loudly and strongly about all of the issues of the day…….and there are many of them.  Do you hear any of these leaders shouting the truth about the state of the state?  No.  So they are not your future candidate!

  • Gerald Neily

    Ah, ’tis the season to write about jolly old guys with colorful jackets who bring joys and toys to the good girls and boys. But “fag-puffing”? Didn’t we redefine that term many years ago? I know you’re trying to convey a sense of anachronism, but the ruling class that “knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake” is a very up-to-date concept.

  • Arabella_Woodhope

    Despite Bobby’s jovial demeanor in the photo, I’ve seen his real colors. At a recent community meeting concerning the construction of a mega Royal Farms convenience store and gas station, he quickly resorted to yelling at constituents. We won’t forget that scene on Election Day. Dynastic ruler or not, he’d be wise to remember the saying, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

  • cwals99

    People need to know that Curran is not a people person, he is involved with the corruption that is Baltimore politics.  You can look Curran in the eyes and feel that this man has his own interests at heart.

    Maryland was ranked at the bottom in the nation for fraud and corruption and Baltimore is incredible in that regard.  So I would encourage Baltimore voters to send all of their incumbents packing and run/vote for labor and justice candidates in the coming elections.  We need to shake the cronyism out.

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