To Gansler, Ambition Is Not a 4-Letter Word

Douglas F. Gansler, right, cheers on son Sam during a touch-football game in Rockville. At left is parent Jon Plebani. Between yells, Gansler talked politics.
Douglas F. Gansler, right, cheers on son Sam during a touch-football game in Rockville. At left is parent Jon Plebani. Between yells, Gansler talked politics. (Photos By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006

His eyes were on the field, watching his 12-year-old son play flag football. But Douglas F. Gansler's mind was on politics.

"I put a bumper sticker on your wife's car. Did you see that?" the Maryland attorney general candidate asked another father as they tossed a football back and forth during the Saturday morning game.

"Aren't we done with stickers yet?"

"See," Gansler said, "that's the thing people don't understand. We still have an election left."

Gansler, 43, is looking for a promotion. He has served nearly eight years as state's attorney in Montgomery County and is running for statewide office for the first time. He has been glad handing his way across Maryland, from black-tie formals to bull roasts.

Having survived a contentious primary to secure the Democratic nomination, Gansler is the favorite to win Nov. 7; one recent poll gave him a 28-percentage-point lead over his Republican opponent, Scott L. Rolle, the state's attorney in Frederick County a place Gansler jokingly has called "Fredneck County."

Throughout his life -- as a son of elite Washington, a star on Yale University's winning lacrosse team, a tough prosecutor and a father cheering his sons on the football field -- Gansler has exhibited a charm and swagger that have earned him loyal friends and serious detractors. What friends see as straight-talking affability that makes him at ease as a politician, his foes see as ego and ambition that drive him to be the center of attention.

Gansler doesn't deny that he's ambitious. He just doesn't see anything wrong with it.

If elected attorney general, for instance, he said he wants to be the Eliot Spitzer of Maryland. He wants to take on polluters of the Chesapeake Bay the way Spitzer, New York's attorney general and a candidate for governor, took on the white-collar criminals of Wall Street.

"Here's the thing: Eliot Spitzer, who is in a picture right there, right below Toby Keith there," Gansler said, pointing to framed photos of the politician and the country music star in his Rockville office. "He has shown the power of what an attorney general can accomplish."

Gansler held up a photograph of human waste being dumped into the Potomac River. "I'm going to be the environmental attorney general," he said. "We're going to conduct an environmental audit where we go mile by mile to every river, stream, tributary and the bay, and if there are polluters, we're going to prosecute them."

Gansler has developed a reputation as a tough prosecutor since blazing onto Montgomery's political scene in 1998. He has surrounded himself with smart, organized lawyers, many fiercely loyal.

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