By Len Lazarick
It was the kind of media scrum you see in movies. A crowd of perhaps 20 reporters and videographers was chasing a source who didn’t want to talk.
That was the scene at High Point High School in Beltsville Monday at noon, as Attorney General Doug Gansler scooted into a waiting SUV with a state trooper at the wheel. Supporters had run interference as the AG made his exit.
The typically talkative Gansler had just been speechifying to these reporters as he announced his running mate for lieutenant governor, Del. Jolene Ivey, an alumna of this Prince George’s County high school. Ivey too, after her acceptance speech, hopped quickly into a private black Cadillac Escalade.
Gansler and Ivey didn’t want to joust with the reporters because the journalists certainly didn’t want to talk about his choice of a running mate. The potential selection of Ivey, chair of the Prince George’s delegation and wife of the former state’s attorney, had been one of the names consistently mentioned as a way to bolster his ticket.
No, what the reporters really wanted to record was Gansler’s reaction to the damaging front page story about Gansler and his state police drivers in the Washington Post the previous day. The story depicted Gansler pushing his police drivers to speed him to his destinations using sirens and lights, running red lights, and sometimes even taking the wheel himself.
Another Washington Post revelation
It was the second time a front-page Washington Post article had put Gansler’s campaign for governor on the defensive. In August, the Post’s Wagner had written about a surreptitious recording of Gansler attacking his opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, as a man of little accomplishment who was relying on his race to become the first African American governor of Maryland.
The embarrassing recording was likely made by a Brown supporter, but Sunday’s revelations about Gansler’s driving had the fingerprints of the O’Malley-Brown administration all over it.
Typically, state officials are extremely tight-lipped about what they will release about the executive protection detail that guards and drives the governor and his family, the attorney general, the comptroller and the state treasurer.
But in this case, the state police released some juicy memos and emails that portrayed Gansler as a pushy passenger who abused his troopers if they got him stuck in traffic. There were even allegations that Gansler picked up some speeding tickets when he took the wheel himself, and there may be more to come on that.
The state police of course report directly to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who apparently was stuck in I-97 traffic once himself when Gansler’s SUV came barreling down the shoulder, according to a story by Michael Dresser in the Sun.
An abuse of power motorists can understand
That incident was at least two years old and never publicly reported at the time. It was conveniently resurrected to show Gansler as a scofflaw abusing his power in ways millions of stalled Maryland motorists could despise. Gansler denies much of the claims, but he doesn’t deny everything, so it’s the word of the state police versus the attorney general.
The Brown campaign has effectively and repeatedly trumped Gansler’s campaign since May, when Brown announced his run. That was followed shortly by naming Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate at a large and elaborate event that made Gansler’s roll-out of the Ivey candidacy look amateurish.
Since then, there have been endorsement after endorsement of Brown by scores of top elected Democrats and labor unions. The Brown camp effectively stepped on Gansler’s own announcement last month by releasing an internal poll that showed Brown way ahead.
The best Gansler can do to offset the bad press is stake out positions counter to the O’Malley-Brown administration on issues such as education and taxes that the attorney general has seldom tackled before.
Gansler, a two-term attorney general who also had two terms as Montgomery County state’s attorney, has taken to portraying himself as the anti-establishment candidate seeking to derail Brown’s coronation. That is not as far-fetched as it initially sounded.
As any Republican legislator can tell you, one thing the Democratic establishment in Maryland knows how to do is to pile on. At the moment, Gansler is at the bottom of the pile.