Did You Hear the One About the Politician's Botched Joke?

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007

Even for seasoned politicians, humor can be risky. A joke gone bad can torpedo a speech, a campaign or even a career. First-time candidates are especially prone to turning bon mots into bombs.

Democrat David H. Miller had hoped to give his campaign for Fairfax County clerk of court a spirited start March 24 at the Bailiwick Inn, the Chain Bridge Road hotel that he co-owns. State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) and Sheriff Stan G. Barry (D) were there to pledge support.

Instead, a misfired tribute to Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova's legs left the audience embarrassed and Miller offering apologies.

Miller's words were not recorded. The blog Not Larry Sabato, which reported the episode last week, cited unnamed witnesses who said that Miller, a neighbor of Bulova's, went on a riff about how good the Braddock District Democrat looked when jogging past his house in shorts.

According to the blog, Miller said: "At first all I noticed was her shorts and legs. After she jogged by a few times, I looked up to see more."

Miller said those weren't his words. But he acknowledged that he botched an attempt to compliment Bulova, who was at the event, on how nice she looked in her chic suit, when he usually saw her in jogging attire.

"If I did state it improperly, it was no intention to demean her or anybody else," Miller said. "The objective was to more poke a little fun at me. I called her and apologized. She told me she took no offense."

Bulova confirmed the call and said it was no big deal.

"He was nervous, and he admitted himself he went too far," she said.

The clerk's post is low-profile but influential. The winner holds office for an eight-year term and controls a staff of about 160 court personnel who manage land and probate records, marriage licenses, weapons permits and other legal documents.

Miller, 58, who is trying to dislodge two-term Republican incumbent John T. Frey, has had an eclectic career as a soldier, Senate aide, lobbyist, lawyer and auxiliary Fairfax police officer. Among his former lobbying clients is the Church of Scientology, which he represented in dealings with the German government and the U.S. State Department. He is not a member of the church.

He's also not a comedian, or so his friends have counseled.

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