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Tailgate Parties Create Political Hangover

By Matthew Mosk and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page HO18

There were more twists and turns this week in the saga of tailgate-gate.

On Monday, College Park City Council member John Krouse hand-delivered a signed ethics complaint against state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's) to the Joint Committee for Legislative Ethics, based on the senator's promotion of tailgate parties he held before Terps football games.

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Md. Legislature

In it, Krouse questioned whether Giannetti's bashes violated laws against public consumption of alcohol and serving alcohol to minors -- something Giannetti says he has never done. Krouse also questioned whether the senator used his clout to procure alcohol donations from local distributors.

"While residents of College Park might expect life in a college town to involve some inconvenience, they have every legitimate reason to expect their state senator to set an example of good citizenship and not to recklessly promote the conversion of public parking lots of the university into a gigantic 10,000-car party zone on game days," Krouse said.

"Senator Giannetti's behavior is inexcusable and ought to be condemned," he added.

Giannetti's initial response to the accusations was to lash out in anger. He told Trish Barba, a reporter for the university's daily newspaper, the Diamondback, that Krouse's "attempts to hurt my reputation have been malicious and defamatory, and he will have to answer for his actions."

This brought an angry retort from Krouse. "Since when does a legitimate complaint about illegal and unethical behavior involving a politician deserve an accusation of 'malicious defamation' when there isn't a single fact of the issue in doubt?" he wrote in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

By Tuesday, Giannetti had toned down the rhetoric, acknowledging in an interview with The Washington Post that he had made mistakes that allowed the tailgate debate to escalate.

While he maintained that he had never offered beer to underage students, Giannetti said he has no doubts now, "taking a few steps away, that I should not have invited students to an event where there was alcohol."

"It sends the wrong message," Giannetti said. "I clearly made a mistake."

Giannetti said there is no reason he can fathom that the dispute should have ever involved an ethics complaint, and attributed the passions on both sides to the fact that he and Krouse are "both strong-willed people."

He said he has been throwing the parties for two years, and that they have mostly been small affairs intended to show pride in the Terps. Once he was told by authorities that he could not have alcohol at the events, Giannetti said, he ceased immediately. The final tailgate party, held last weekend, was dry.

"It is a silly dispute," Giannetti said. "We had no intention to break any law. Absolutely none. Our only motive was for people to know that their senator is a rabid Terps fan. The end."

At least for now.

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