ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s two major party candidates for governor spoke to a gathering of municipal leaders from around the state Friday but it wasn’t the well-worn campaign speeches that had the campaigns talking.
Instead, it was what happened outside the Westin Hotel, where a spokesman for the campaign of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said a campaign worker was manhandled by a man who works as a driver and bodyguard for Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee.
The Hogan campaign called the incident an assault. Jealous’ camp called Hogan’s campaign aggressive and the claim of an assault “fake news.”
The unidentified Hogan campaign worker is frequently assigned as a campaign tracker — a person who follows an opponent around, video-recording each speech and public appearance.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor’s campaign, said the tracker was attempting to record Jealous as the candidate spoke to reporters outside the hotel and later as he entered the building. That’s when Jealous’ bodyguard “slammed” the Hogan worker against a wall, according to Mayer, who said he witnessed the altercation.
Mayer called the incident “an assault.” Hours after the Maryland Municipal League’s candidates’ forum, the Hogan campaign released two videos. One video, which appears to be shot from the same vantage point as one tweeted earlier by a reporter, the driver and bodyguard can clearly be seen wrapping his right arm briefly around the Hogan worker’s chest.
The second video, shot by the tracker’s video camera, shows the tracker approaching Jealous near where reporters are speaking to the candidate. The tracker asks Jealous if he plans “to raise taxes on the middle class.” Jealous ignores the question as the tracker trails him.
Soon after, the head of the Jealous’ bodyguard enters the frame as he repeatedly says “excuse me” and appears to be using his body to obstruct the tracker.
“Whoa, whoa,” the tracker says, and the camera is jostled. “This is a public space. Get your hands off of me.”
“Hey!” the tracker yells. “You can’t touch me.”
Neither video actually shows the bodyguard pushing the campaign staffer against a wall.
“Ben Jealous owes an apology to this harmless young staffer who was doing nothing more than his job,” said Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for the Hogan campaign. “There is no place for intimidation tactics on the campaign trail or anywhere.”
In a statement sent after the Hogan campaign released their videos, a Jealous campaign spokesman denied an assault took place and called it “fake news.”
“The fact that the Hogan campaign issued a press release before alerting authorities tells you even they don’t actually believe this was an assault,” said Steven Hershkowitz. “The Hogan campaign regularly engages in fake news to distract from any real issues being discussed in this campaign, including just this week releasing a video mocking stutters. The only person exhibiting aggressive behavior was the Hogan staffer, who had been asked to allow Ben to enter the building and greet officials who had come out to welcome him.”
Earlier Friday, Hershkowitz, speaking to reporters at the hotel, said the security worker said trackers from the Republican Governors Association “can get aggressive” and that security will attempt to block them if they rush the candidate.
“Our protocol is that our security personnel will only get between a tracker and Ben if he thinks the tracker is being too aggressive and even then in those situations he would not push him,” said Hershkowitz. “So, if the tracker was being aggressive and sort of ended up against the wall… I don’t know if that’s what happened, I just haven’t seen the video.”
@BenJealous outside the hotel w/a few of his supporters. Behind in a white jacket, a young man w/@LarryHogan campaign gets held while holding a video camera. #MDpolitics @WashInformer pic.twitter.com/BRUWLA5MrS
— William J. Ford (@jabariwill) October 12, 2018
A lobbyist attending the fall conference of the Maryland Municipal League, where both Hogan and Jealous spoke, said he saw the bodyguard block the tracker and bump chests.
“It was tense,” the lobbyist said, adding he did not witness the manhandling described by the Hogan campaign.