Metro Board Member Fired for Comment on Gays
Friday, June 16, 2006
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday fired Robert J. Smith, his appointee on the Metro transit authority board, for referring to gay people as sexual deviants on a cable television show.
"Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable," Ehrlich (R) said in a statement less than five hours after the controversy erupted during a Metro board meeting. "They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity."
At the Metro meeting, board member Jim Graham, who represents the District, had called for Smith to disavow his remarks or apologize or for Ehrlich to remove him. "As someone who cares deeply about human rights, and as an openly gay elected official . . . I cannot remain silent in the face of these comments," Graham said, reading from a prepared statement.
Smith acknowledged after the meeting that he had referred to homosexuals as "persons of sexual deviancy" during a political round-table discussion on a Montgomery County cable show that was shown on Sunday.
"Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant," he said. "I'm a Roman Catholic." Smith said his comments had been part of a discussion about a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. "The comments I make in public outside of my [Metro board job] I'm entitled to make," he said. His personal beliefs, he said, have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses and have not affected my actions or decisions on this board."
Ehrlich appointed Raymond J. Briscuso Jr., who heads a biotech consulting company, to take Smith's place. Briscuso, 46, will serve the remainder of Smith's three-year term, which began June 1, 2004.
Briscuso, who used to ride Metro's Red Line regularly between his Bethesda home and his downtown Washington office, said he is "very excited" to serve on the board. Briscuso managed George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign in Maryland in 1988.
For several months, Ehrlich, who is likely to announce his reelection bid this month, has been working to position himself as a centrist. One recent report about a political advertisement the governor is recording suggested that he is considering the line: "Bob Ehrlich governs not from the right or the left, but the center, where we are."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Ehrlich, said that "Smith's hateful and mean-spirited comments suggest that he is unfit to serve the public, and his immediate removal is wholly justified."
Smith, 47, a Gaithersburg architect, could not be reached by phone last night. Earlier in the day, he said he served at the pleasure of the governor.
Almost immediately after he was appointed, Smith drew attention by questioning expenses at the agency, criticizing spending on promotional materials and other items he considered luxuries. He read lengthy budget documents that other board members tend to skim and asked sharp questions of finance managers.
The Metro directors oversee a $1 billion operating budget and nearly 10,000 employees. They set policy for the nation's second-busiest subway and fifth-busiest bus system. Metro carries more than 1.1 million riders a day.