Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown’s mother is Swedish. She is Swiss. This version has been corrected.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler faced mounting fallout Tuesday for telling a group of supporters last month that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, his African American opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has few accomplishments and is relying on his race to win the 2014 primary.
Several prominent African American Democrats and Brown supporters said the remarks could have more serious consequences for Gansler in a state where blacks often make up a third of voters in Democratic primaries.
The comments were captured in a July 15 recording of a meeting with prospective campaign volunteers in Annapolis. The recording was provided to The Washington Post by someone not employed by either campaign.
“I mean, right now his campaign slogan is, ‘Vote for me, I want to be the first African American governor of Maryland,’ ” Gansler said of Brown, according to the recording. “That’s a laudable goal, but you need a second sentence: ‘Because here’s what I’ve done, and here’s why I’ve done it.’ ”
In a statement Tuesday evening, Brown, a Harvard-educated colonel in the Army Reserve who served a tour in Iraq, said he was “disappointed that Doug Gansler has decided to ignore my record and instead focus on race in this election.”
Justin Schall, Brown’s campaign manager, said Gansler “belittled the record of a war veteran who served in Iraq.” He also called for an apology, “so we can all move on.”
In an interview Tuesday, Gansler said that no apology was necessary and that his words were misinterpreted. “I don’t know what I would apologize for,” he said before a meeting with transit advocates in Silver Spring. “I said absolutely nothing wrong. I said what I think people believe, which is that we should not be talking about race.”
Supporters rallied around him, saying he has long had strong ties to the African American community.
Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), chairwoman of her county delegation and rumored to be a possible Gansler running mate, said his comments don’t have “any real significance one way or another. It’s not like he said anything racist.”
During the 30-minute recording, Gansler talked about his early support of President Obama and his work to “bridge the minority achievement gap” in education and said he created the “first civil rights division in the history of Maryland in the attorney general’s office.”
Still, others said the comments would reverberate throughout the campaign, even though the primary isn’t until June. The primary also includes Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery).
Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County), a Brown supporter, said Gansler’s remarks will be “very damaging” among black voters.
“They are serious comments because they indicate his naivete about issues of race in Maryland,” Ervin said. “White people don’t like the race card being pulled on them, and he pulled the race card on Anthony.”
Ervin added that Gansler revealed his hypocrisy by announcing at the same meeting that his choice of a running mate for the lieutenant governor’s post would be an African American from Baltimore or Prince George’s County.
Pastor Donte Hickman of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore said he found Gansler’s words offensive, given Brown’s credentials.
“He is more than an African American,” Hickman said. “He has earned the right to become the governor of our state.” Hickman said that although he was already inclined to support Brown, the remarks have “just pushed me even farther.”
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), a Brown supporter, challenged Gansler’s contention that his policy résumé was thin. He pointed to his work in implementing the federal health-care law in Maryland and promoting public-private partnerships, the means by which the state hopes to build and operate the light-rail Purple Line in Maryland’s Washington suburbs.
Davis also highlighted Brown’s tour in Iraq while serving in the legislature. “Anthony served in the Iraq war. You could almost stop right there,” Davis said.
Doug Thornell, a Gansler strategist, said his candidate’s comments were directed at Brown’s tenure as lieutenant governor and had nothing to do with his military service, which he said Gansler respects. “To conflate the two is disingenuous and just trying to play politics,” Thornell said. “We’re going to keep talking about issues and solutions to real challenges that Marylanders face, while they are desperately working to manufacture controversy.”
Former congressman Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) said that he wasn’t troubled by what Gansler had said and that he was reacting to a sales pitch made by some Brown supporters — that he would be Maryland’s first black governor.
“It’s common knowledge that that is one of the messaging points put out by Brown,” said Wynn, who added that he is a Gansler supporter.
Brown has generally steered clear of the theme. Shortly before he announced his candidacy in May, the son of a Jamaican father and Swiss mother said that he was “mindful” but that race wouldn’t define his campaign.
“I think Marylanders are looking for leaders who are going to get results,” Brown said in an interview at the time. “It will be more about results than race.”
The recorded comments were the latest in a career marked by language that has landed Gansler in hot water.
As Montgomery state’s attorney, he publicly chastised judges for rulings he didn’t like. In 2003, he was reprimanded by the state’s highest court for saying too much publicly about pending criminal cases. Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia said Gansler “spoke outside of court about matters that had a substantial likelihood of depriving several criminal defendants of fair trials.”
Gansler characterized the court’s action as payback for his dispute with Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Durke G. Thompson, who held an 11-year-old partly responsible for being raped by a 23-year-old Virginia man. Thompson sentenced the man to 18 months in prison, saying that “it takes two to tango.”
During his first campaign for attorney general, in 2006, against Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle, The Post reported that Gansler jokingly called the county “Fredneck.”
As attorney general in 2009, he described the Maryland Senate’s efforts in 2009 to limit the death penalty as “ill-prepared” and “written on a paper napkin.”
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Gansler’s remarks about Brown were in the same vein: impolitic and not artful but also not malicious — and unlikely to affect the course of the race.
“Good God. Anyone who’s had a conversation with Doug Gansler knows he speaks sometimes before he processes what he’s going to say,” Eberly said.