The politically charged feud unfolding between two Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Maryland — one who is gay and one whose running mate is gay — centers on an infinitive: to prance.
The campaign of Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a longtime lawmaker who is gay, says opponent Alec Ross, a tech entrepreneur and political newcomer, used dog whistle politics when he said that he will get things done as governor, unlike a state senator who “prances around Annapolis talking.”
Madaleno’s campaign put out a statement that called Ross’s choice of words “poor and insensitive.” In an interview, Madaleno said he was proud of his legislative record and thought Ross’s word choice was “interesting.”
"Alec Ross certainly wouldn't say Rushern Baker is 'prancing around' Prince George's County, or that Krish Vignarajah was 'prancing around' while serving on first lady [Michelle] Obama's staff," the campaign's statement read, referring to two of the other Democratic candidates in the gubernatorial race.
In an interview, Ross said he “of course” feels bad if his comments were misconstrued. “But I was not talking about Rich’s sexuality — he is the one doing that,” said Ross, who added that he would never attack someone because of who they are.
And Julie Verratti, Ross’s openly gay running mate, quickly responded to the discussion via Twitter, saying that Ross is a “good + decent person who made a poor language choice.” Verratti said Madaleno had launched a “smear campaign” that she called “sad and pathetic.”
Madaleno and Verratti are the only two openly gay candidates in the crowded Democratic field. Ross earned the support of 3 percent of Democrats in a recent Goucher poll, and Madaleno came in at 2 percent.
“The thing I’m feeling right now is a lot of disappointment,” Verratti said in an interview. “Alec has an openly gay running mate and campaign manager. He’s been an ally his whole life, and Rich knows that.”
Verratti added that Ross knows he made a “poor choice of words and feels bad about that.”
The feud began when the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed Madaleno, tweeted a 28-second video of interviews Madaleno and Ross gave after a debate last weekend.
“The difference between me, and, like, a state senator, is a state senator prances around Annapolis talking about these issues, whereas an entrepreneur and somebody with real executive branch experience like myself has actually done it and knows how to do it,” Ross says in the video.
Madaleno said Ross's comment also showed a "disrespect of the entire legislative process." He added that he is proud of his legislative record, including backing a bill to ban conversion therapy for gay minors that advanced in the General Assembly last week.
The Victory Fund included a link to sign up to “ ‘prance’ with Rich and other targets of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.”
“Intentional or not, the reality is LGBTQ candidates frequently face homophobic dog whistle attacks in blue and red states,” said Elliot Imse, director of communications with the Victory Fund. “When we hear them, it’s important for the community to call it out.”
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, pointed out that although it is common to accuse lawmakers of “dancing around an issue,” he had never heard someone accused of “prancing around an issue.”
“The choice of words is especially troubling as only one State Senator is in the contest and he happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community,” Eberly tweeted.
But Brian Gaither, co-founder of the Pride Foundation of Maryland, said he thinks the language is a reflection of the behavior of lawmakers in Annapolis — not a commentary on Madaleno’s sexuality.
“Every legislator in Annapolis at some point prances, preens and parades,” he said. “The entire city is full of a lot of vanity.”
In a Twitter thread Thursday morning, Verratti said that as a gay woman, she knows what it is like to be “attacked for my sexuality and gender.”
“At least once a week I’m called ‘sir,’ and several times a month I’m chased out of the women’s bathroom,” she tweeted. “Do you know what I do when this happens? I use empathy, and I take the opportunity to open someone’s mind about what it means to be an LGBTQ person. If we want to change the world, then it is our job to help people learn — not to try to shame them for a mistake.”
Ross’s comment has also attracted the attention of two other Democrats in the race, Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive, and James L. Shea, both of whom tweeted links to the Victory Fund video and said Ross’s language had no place in the race.
Dels. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery) and Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) also spoke on Twitter against Ross’s comment.