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Maryland attorney general, candidate hit for ignoring drinking teens

In the annals of politicians behaving badly, Douglas F. Gansler, the Democratic attorney general of Maryland who is running for governor, is fast becoming a category of his own.

Here’s a tip: When seeking the top elected position in a state, it’s probably not a good idea to show up at a wild, alcohol-fueled teenage party and simply take pictures. Just as it’s probably not a great idea to order your protection detail to break traffic laws as they transport you around the state.

The latest brouhaha to envelop Gansler arrived in the form of a Baltimore Sun story Thursday.  It detailed Gansler’s attendance at the party held in June in nearby South Bethany, Del.

The house was jammed with teenagers, some of them dancing on table tops. How do we know this? One of the participants took a picture, which—cherry on top, for Gansler’s critics—showed the white-shirted attorney general in the crowd, taking a picture with his phone. 

And then there was the Sun’s money quote, from Gansler’s own mouth:

"Assume for purposes of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party," Gansler said. "How is that relevant to me? … The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people's children at beach week in another state? I say no."

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Gansler and other parents paid for the Delaware beach house—a graduation gift for their children--and laid down rules forbidding, among other things, “hard alcohol,” the Sun said. Not specifically forbidden: beer and wine, which one might guess were among the beverages in the red plastic cups scattered in the picture.

Gansler is due to talk about the matter later Thursday—though the barn door already seems closed, message control-wise. He told the Sun that he stopped by the party to talk to his son and does not remember whether he actually saw anyone drinking.

There is willful blindness, and then there is hypocrisy: As the Sun noted, one of Gansler’s big issues has been fighting underage drinking.

"Parents, you're the leading influence on your teen's decision not to drink," Gansler said in a video filmed months ago for a nonprofit that seeks to educate children and their parents. "It's never too early to talk with your kids about smart ways to say no."

Ralph Blackman, the head of the Century Council nonprofit, told the Sun after hearing of the incident: "Let me pick myself up off the floor here."

Truth be told, it doesn’t seem all that surprising considering an earlier bout of stories about Gansler, these from the Washington Post. The Post reported that the attorney general ordered state troopers who drive him around in a state vehicle to run red lights, use the shoulder and speed. According to a written account by the state police, cited by the Post, he once took the wheel himself and ran red lights.

“Attorney General Gansler has consistently acted in a way that disregards public safety, our Troopers safety and even the law,” the commander of the protection division wrote.

Gansler told the Post that the documents did not afford “an accurate reflection of reality” and then he apologized to any troopers who “felt my backseat driving made them uncomfortable.”

In a related move, the Sun reported Wednesday that Gansler had paid an overdue speeding ticket after its cost had zoomed to $400 due to nonpayment. A trooper contended that Gansler was driving his state vehicle when a law enforcement camera captured it speeding, but Gansler has not copped to that, the Sun said, and specifically told reporters he paid the ticket without determining who was driving.

Cathleen.Decker@latimes.com

Twitter: @cathleendecker

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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