Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Thursday he “probably should have done more” to determine whether alcohol was present at a teen house party he briefly stopped by this summer, a retreat from his previously defiant stance that he had no “moral authority” to intervene.
The admission came during a news conference held to address a report in the Baltimore Sun that the gubernatorial candidate was present at the party in June at a beach house in South Bethany, Del.
Mr. Gansler said he stopped in to tell his son what time they were leaving in the morning. A photo shows the Democrat at the party, and several teens who attended told The Sun that the gathering involved underaged drinking.
“Maybe I should have been more observant,” Mr. Gansler said Thursday. “In this case, I could have done something differently.”
Mr. Gansler said the incident happened at the height of the high school graduation season. The home had been rented by a group of parents, including Mr. Gansler, as a place for their recent high school graduates to stay for the week, according to The Sun. A list of house rules included a prohibition on “hard liquor” and requirements that chaperones be present.
Mr. Gansler said his name was not on the rental agreement for the house nor was he one of the adult chaperones assigned to the home.
“I wasn’t there as a police officer,” Mr. Gansler said. “I was there to talk to my child.”
In Delaware, the legal drinking age is 21, although the law has exceptions that allow those underage to drink in a private home with parental consent.
Mr. Gansler, who previously won Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Hero award and the Victims’ Rights Foundation Champion of Children award, originally told The Sun he did not have the moral authority over other people’s children to intervene if he had observed widespread drinking.
But he backed off those comments during the Thursday news conference, saying there was no question he has a moral responsibility over other people’s children.
“If I’d seen anything that looked dangerous, risky, or someone in a bad situation I would have done something about it,” he said.
Mr. Gansler last year recorded a public service announcement for the Century Council, a Virginia-based nonprofit sponsored by liquor companies that campaigns against drunken driving and underage drinking.
Council CEO Ralph Blackman told The Associated Press he expects the spot will be pulled off the organization’s YouTube channel.
“We talk a lot about the mixed messages that parents sometimes send to kids. It’s a bit of a mixed message for us,” he said.
The scrutiny continues what has been a bumpy campaign thus far for Mr. Gansler ahead of the June Democratic primary.
Early poll numbers released last week by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies show Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown ahead in the race, with 40.7 percent support from polled voters, compared to 21.1 percent for Mr. Gansler, and 5.2 percent for Delegate Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County.
Just this week, Mr. Gansler reportedly paid $400 to settle an overdue speed camera violation ticket from the District that was issued to his state-assigned vehicle in June 2012 for going 21 to 25 mph over the speed limit. The incident reinforced earlier news reports suggesting Mr. Gansler was reckless on the roads, ordering Maryland State Police troopers to drive him around with lights and sirens on, and to speed and run red lights on the way to appointments.
Mr. Gansler suggested the involvement of Mr. Brown and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has endorsed the lieutenant governor in the race, after that incident but stopped just short of that Thursday.
In August, even before he formally declared his candidacy, Mr. Gansler was forced to defend comments to supporters about how Mr. Brown was short on accomplishments and was running on the basis of becoming the state’s first black governor.
In an interview with The Sun, Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University, wondered “can things get any worse” for Mr. Gansler’s campaign for governor.
“He’s just had one mistake after another,” Mr. Crenson said. “I just can’t believe people are going to put up with this.