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After much thought, Zirkin decides he’ll run again

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who cast a critical vote as the General Assembly decided to repeal the death penalty, said Monday he will seek re-election.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin

Zirkin said “a particularly rough session” caused him to take his time deciding his political future. A bill to repeal the death penalty, comprehensive gun control legislation and a controversial effort to undo last year’s Court of Appeals ruling that made pit bull owners strictly liable for attacks by their dogs all went through Zirkin’s committee.

Zirkin filed for re-election on Friday after speaking with his family — including his two daughters, who are 3 and 5 years old — and his partner in the Law Offices of Bobby Zirkin in Owings Mills.

“I took a little more time after this session than I had in years past,” Zirkin said. “With two young kids, it’s a different and longer conversation I wanted to have with my family. The girls are the most important things in my life. I need to make sure that that is taken care of.

“This isn’t a life appointment, and there are a lot of things that are going on. I’m a very active attorney, and it’s hard when you’re down for 90 straight days.”

Zirkin, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has been a senator since 2007. He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1999 until 2007.

While Zirkin was previously in favor of retaining capital punishment in Maryland, his choice to change his vote was a key development in the Senate’s decision to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole.

In 2009, Zirkin helped craft legislation that preserved the death penalty but only allowed its use when DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime was available. This year, Zirkin said the risk of executing an innocent person — even with those protections — was far too great.

With Zirkin on the side of repeal supporters, the Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 6-5 to allow the legislation to be debated by the full Senate, which in March voted 27-20 in favor of repeal. Less than two weeks later, the House of Delegates voted 82-56 for repeal. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law this month.

His decision to seek re-election comes at a potentially unsettling time for the Senate’s judicial committee. Longtime Chairman Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, is expected to make a run for Maryland attorney general in 2014, forfeiting his Senate seat in the process.

Zirkin, an influential member of that committee, said he was not seeking a promotion.

“I’ll be happy with whatever role,” he said. “The decision is, I love the job. I love public policy.”