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Maryland attorney general addresses underage drinking party, twerking

October 24, 2013|By Cathleen Decker

It's hard to believe it could have gotten worse Thursday for Maryland Atty. Gen. Douglas F. Gansler, but somehow it did.  

The Democratic candidate for governor started the day accused of looking the other way as teenagers drank at a Delaware beach party in June — no small thing given his public stance against teenage drinking. Not to mention the fact that he’s the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

But any day in which the candidate ends up discussing “twerking” — sexually suggestive dancing, for those who missed the whole Miley Cyrus saga — is surely destined to go downhill.

To recap: The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that Gansler had stopped in June at the beach party held at a house where his son and other teenagers were staying for “beach week,” a low-grade bacchanalia of sun, sand and red Solo cups. Photographic evidence was published of Gansler holding out his phone in what appeared to be an effort to take a picture of participants. Within his picture range were two young shirtless men dancing with a young woman in a sort of twerking sandwich.

In the piece, Gansler was quoted as saying, basically: My kid wasn’t drinking, so it wasn’t my problem. Since that violated the whole it-takes-a-village ethos of teenage parenting, he followed up Thursday afternoon with a news conference meant to forward a more nuanced explanation of his actions and his regrets. You could almost feel the joy radiating from the Maryland political press corps as the quotes poured from him.

As in:

The contents in the party’s proliferation of red cups (he previously told The Sun that he does not remember whether he saw anyone drinking): “Generally, there could be Kool-Aid in the red cups, but there’s probably beer in the red cups.”

Who was drinking: “This was a dance party with loud music and there may have been some college students or others drinking beer. I just don’t know. But the party was chaperoned by adults but should I, as a parent, have tried to determine whether there was drinking by other children in the house or asked the chaperons whether there was drinking going on? Perhaps I should assume there was drinking going on and I got that wrong.”

The difficulties of parenting a kid months away from departing for college: “As a parent of a 19-year-old, I face the same issues as many of you: How do we get it right? How do we draw the balance between helping our college-bound teenagers make good choices and when to pull them back?”

Suffice to say, Gansler wasn’t necessarily making the good choices himself. But on to twerking, one of the stranger interludes in any gubernatorial campaign news conference anywhere. It began when Gansler insisted that he “did not take any pictures” despite the photograph in The Sun appearing to show him doing exactly that.

“I don’t think I actually knew how to make pictures at that time,” he explained. “I had just gotten an iPhone because I remember being worried about it.”

“Is that your hand on the cellphone taking a picture?” a journalist asked.

“No, that’s my hand and my guess is what I am doing is reading a text," Gansler responded. "I don’t know how to take pictures — I do now, not sure that I did then.”

He was then asked, “In front of two guys with their shirts off and with a girl twerking in between? Are you in fact setting a good example in this picture?”

That question went unanswered, but Gansler explained that he arrived at the house, walked through the room where the picture of him was taken, went upstairs to tell his son the rest of the family’s plans, told his son he loved him, and left.

“What I could have done is investigate if there was drinking going on and then taken action on that and for that -- I probably should have done that, in hindsight certainly.” But he noted, he is not the attorney general of Delaware. Just Maryland.

In what appeared to be the sole lawyer-recommended quotes in his entire news conference, Gansler insisted, at least twice, that he had not seen any teenager in distress: “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 have, and spoken to the chaperons about ending the party. If you see a teenager who needs help, you obviously help them.”

It’s possible that sympathy for the difficulties in parenting a child on the cusp of independence — tough under any circumstances — will mitigate the impact of the beach house blunder. But Gansler's campaign was already lumbering under accusations published in the Washington Post that he forced his security detail to break traffic laws and ran red lights himself, a situation that at best portrays him as a brick shy in judgment.

Legally, at least, he took steps to wipe up that mess Wednesday by paying an overdue speeding ticket — without admitting that he was the driver, as the state trooper accompanying him had said.

Perhaps it will remain a mystery, like the substance in the red cups.

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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