Trying to Clarify a 'Pretty Ghetto' Statement

Commissioner Al Smith, above, said it was
Commissioner Al Smith, above, said it was "very irresponsible for her to judge our community." Hilary Duff, far left, dates Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden, left, of Charles County. (By Win Mcnamee -- Reuters)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

When teen starlet Hilary Duff's reported description of Waldorf as "ghetto" surfaced last week, her comments quickly became chatter for Southern Maryland's impressionable teenagers, gossipy parents and elected officials.

In an interview with the fashion magazine Elle, the 19-year-old pop star said her boyfriend, Charles County native Joel Madden and the lead singer of the pop-punk band Good Charlotte, was from "a pretty ghetto place in Maryland." Duff's comments from the magazine's July issue were leaked on the Internet, on the radio and in newspapers.

Residents and visitors in Waldorf have lashed out at Duff, criticizing her for deriding a place she reportedly has not seen.

"I wouldn't want to go around labeling cities if I were in her shoes. I don't know where she gets the audacity to say things like that," 22-year-old Hasad Newsome said, echoing the comments of more than a dozen fellow shoppers Friday at St. Charles Towne Center.

Duff issued a statement last week through a publicist claiming she "never said any of those negative words" in the Elle article. She fired that publicist late last week, and her new publicist, Samantha Mast, said Duff's comments to Elle were taken out of context.

When Duff used the words "pretty ghetto," Mast said, Duff was referring to an apartment in downtown Baltimore where Duff said Madden once lived.

"She never said that Waldorf was ghetto," Mast said.

Still, the comment has stung residents of Charles County's commercial hub. County Commissioner Al Smith (R), whose district includes part of Waldorf, took offense at Duff's comments.

"It's unfortunately very unprofessional, and I think very irresponsible for her to judge our community of Waldorf," Smith said. "She's got a bright future ahead of her, but she might want to be careful about the things that she says without having full knowledge of the impact and repercussions."

Smith, known in the county for his flamboyantly patriotic ways, offered to show Duff a "great American day" in Charles County. He pledged to take her bass fishing and drive her through the rural parts of the county.

"I think I'd love to offer her the opportunity for a personal tour escorted by Commissioner Al Smith, and I'll show her the charm and beauty in places she's never seen," Smith said.

Visitors have joked about Waldorf for years. The Route 301 corridor that runs through Waldorf once was a strip of gaudy slot-machine casinos and nightclubs. Since then, Waldorf has been trying to recast itself as a family-friendly community of suburban residences and attractive retail businesses.

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