SILVER SPRING — On the defensive again, Maryland Attorney Doug Gansler found himself under scrutiny Thursday in his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, saying he should have done more to see if there was underage drinking at a teenage party he visited to talk with his son.
Gansler told reporters at a crowded news conference that he stopped by the June 13 party in South Bethany, Del., to meet up with his 19-year-old son and discuss travel plans. A photograph obtained by The Baltimore Sun and published Thursday shows Gansler amid a group of partying teens. Some of the teens are dancing and several plastic cups are visible. Gansler is holding a smartphone, and he said he believed he was reading a text message.
Gansler said in hindsight it was “a mistake” he did not do more to see if there was underage drinking.
“Perhaps I should have assumed there was drinking going on, and I got that wrong,” Gansler said. “What I can tell you is that at no time while I was in the house did I see any teenager in any danger or any risk. If I had, of course, I would have attended to that person as I always do and spoken to the chaperones about ending the party.”
The news conference in front of Gansler’s campaign headquarters marked his latest response to an embarrassing flap in a campaign bedeviled by them. Gansler faced reporters’ questions Thursday not only about whether he was qualified to be governor, but if he was qualified to remain the state’s chief law enforcement official.
Gansler responded that questions about his character have only surfaced since he recently announced his run for governor. Gansler served as Montgomery County’s state’s attorney, an elected position that made him the county’s top prosecutor, before becoming attorney general in 2007. Gansler said he planned to move forward with his campaign and expressed confidence he would prevail after debating issues important to the state.
“I’m a big boy,” Gansler said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and when I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and when I could have done something differently, I’ll tell you, and in this case I could have done something differently.”
Gansler said that while there was loud music at the party, he didn’t see anyone drinking alcohol. He said he left soon after talking with his son, who was a DJ at the party.
“I didn’t see anything like, that would say, ‘Hey, we need to call the police, this is out of control,’ or anything like that,” Gansler said.
He underscored he went to the party as a parent and only to tell his son when he was leaving the next morning after having attended a dinner at the Maryland State Bar Association convention 14 miles to the south in Ocean City, Md.
“As a parent, you always try to make the best judgments,” Gansler said. “In this case, maybe I should have done something differently.”
Gansler’s reaction shifted from earlier comments to the Sun, in which he said if he had seen underage drinking, it wouldn’t have been his responsibility to intervene.
Gansler starred last year in a public service announcement for The Century Council, an organization sponsored by the liquor industry that fights drunken driving and underage drinking. In the 30-second video spot, Gansler says parents are the leading influence on their kids’ behavior when it comes to alcohol, noting, “It’s never too early to talk to your kids about smart ways to say, ‘No.'”
Council CEO Ralph Blackman said he expects the spot will be withdrawn from the organization’s YouTube channel.
“We talk a lot about the mixed messages that parents sometimes send to kids. It’s a bit of a mixed message for us” to have Gansler’s PSA available while his actions are under scrutiny.
Gansler’s campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination has been going through a rough patch.
The Washington Post published a story last week about Maryland State Police describing Gansler as directing troopers assigned to protect him to bypass traffic by driving on the shoulder and presenting other safe-driving concerns. Gansler responded by calling the commander of the state police’s executive protection section a “henchman” of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running against Gansler for the party’s nomination.
Gansler also alleged regarding the state police story that he was being attacked as part of a dirty tricks campaign against him. On Thursday, he was more guarded, but he said he expected to see more dirty tricks before the June 24 primary.
The nominating race has been highly competitive because O’Malley is barred by term limits from seeking a third term in the heavily Democratic state. It got off to an early start this year, partly because the primary has been moved up from September.
O’Malley declined to comment on what action, if any, Gansler should have taken at the party. As far as its relevance to the governor’s race, O’Malley left the matter in the hands of voters, while reiterating his support for Brown.
“Voters are smart and in the course of time they have the ability to evaluate the positions of candidates and also their personal makeup, so things like this happen in the course of a campaign and voters are pretty intelligent over the long-term,” O’Malley said after speaking Thursday at The Center for American Progress in Washington.