Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, will announce his running mate Monday as he attempts to move beyond controversies that have plagued his campaign for governor, including allegations that he routinely pressed his security detail to drive unsafely.
As Gansler was planning to introduce Prince George's County Del. Jolene Ivey as his choice for lieutenant governor, his campaign was scrambling to put out a political brush fire caused by reports that the attorney general routinely told his state police drivers to speed, run red lights and use lights and sirens on the way to appointments.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that members of Gansler's security detail had informed superiors that Gansler was a difficult passenger whose demands put troopers and the public at risk. The article quoted Lt. Charles Ardolini, head of the executive protection unit, as saying Gansler's "extremely irresponsible behavior is non-stop and occurs on a daily basis."
The Gansler campaign issued a statement disputing the assertions and alleging that the Post account was "based on information generated by supporters" of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Gansler's chief rival in the contest for the Democratic nomination for governor.
"We believe it's politically motivated," said Gansler campaign spokesman Bob Wheelock, who labeled the allegations "tear-down politics."
Wheelock said he could not prove the Brown campaign was the source of the report. But he pointed to the "timing of it" — coming just weeks after Gansler's announcement of his candidacy and the day before his planned announcement of a running mate to counter Brown's selection of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
The choice of Ivey represents a risk for Gansler, a Montgomery County resident, because he did not choose a partner from the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the combination of the driving allegations, an all-Washington-area ticket and an earlier controversy involving the attorney general's comments about the role of race in the campaign suggest Gansler's effort is "knee deep in quicksand."
While Wheelock played down or disputed the specific allegations in the Post article, he described a sometimes-demanding passenger obsessed with punctuality.
"We will acknowledge that Doug can be a backseat driver," Wheelock said. "If you're stuck in traffic, he will say 'Why didn't you go this way?' … It can get annoying. It can get frustrating perhaps."
Gansler issued a statement in which he acknowledged that "a few of the 18 troopers" who have protected him since he took office in 2007 "felt my backseat driving made them uncomfortable," for which he apologized.
Wheelock also put a reporter in touch with a former member of Gansler's security detail who described the attorney general as "always very respectful" and said Gansler never asked the trooper to violate traffic laws. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the trooper, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, described the allegations as "silly."
Wheelock acknowledged that Gansler had clashed with Ardolini and that the attorney general had sought to make changes in his security detail because he was "frustrated" that two or three of the troopers did not seem to know their way around the region. He said Gansler was not upset that troopers were driving too slowly but questioned their choice of routes when they ran into traffic backups.
Wheelock said Gansler was given some new drivers and there is now no trouble with that relationship. The spokesman declined to make Gansler available for an interview. A state police spokesman did not return a call seeking a comment.
The driving controversy is the second in recent months in which the Gansler campaign has pointed fingers at Brown and his backers to explain the disclosure of embarrassing information. In August, Gansler alleged that backers of the lieutenant governor had committed a felony by releasing an audio recording of Gansler telling supporters in a closed-doors meeting that Brown's campaign was based primarily on the proposition that he would be the first African-American governor of Maryland.
The comments raised eyebrows among Maryland Democrats and led to a demand from Brown that Gansler apologize to the voters. Gansler refused.
Justin Schall, campaign manager for Brown, denied planting the story. "This is an issue between the attorney general and the state police and we have no comment beyond that," Schall said.
Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, said the conduct attributed to Gansler is "carrying executive privilege way over the line."
Wheelock said the problems between Gansler and some members of his state police detail may have begun with an incident on Interstate 97 between Baltimore and Annapolis in which both Gov. Martin O'Malley and the attorney general became stuck in traffic because of an accident ahead. Wheelock acknowledged that Gansler's driver used his lights and siren to bypass the backup, driving on the shoulder, while O'Malley remained in the backup. Wheelock said he believed that incident led the governor to complain to state police officials, setting in motion an internal inquiry that prompted Ardolini to write a December 2011 memo in which he passed on troopers' reports of Gansler's alleged demands.
Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, confirmed that such an incident on I-97 had prompted the governor to complain to the state police. Henry said that when the governor made the complaint about a state vehicle passing traffic on the shoulder, he did not know who was in the car.
O'Malley is a strong supporter of Brown's campaign for governor.
Like O'Malley did, Gansler is turning to a Prince George's County delegate for his ticket mate. The 52-year-old Ivey is a two-term delegate who is married to Glenn Ivey, a former Prince George's state's attorney and chairman of the Public Service Commission.
Ivey, a dynamic and personable lawmaker, brings diversity to the Gansler ticket as an African-American woman. Prince George's County is the state's second-largest, after Montgomery.
The selection of a woman running mate could strike a contrast with Brown's choice, Ulman. It also could help Gansler stave off a challenge from Montgomery County Del. Heather R. Mizeur, who is vying with him for the votes of Democrats who want a change from the O'Malley-Brown years.
But Norris said the choice of a Washington-area running mate is not a sign of strength for Gansler. "Apparently, Gansler tried and tried and tried to find an African-American running mate from Baltimore and couldn't," Norris said. "Now he's thumbing his nose at central Maryland."
At least one Baltimore Democrat who has not endorsed a candidate, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, said the choice made it more likely she would choose Brown. She said Baltimore was not ready for a ticket in which neither member came from the Baltimore metro area.
Among the Baltimore-area elected officials who had been mentioned as possible Gansler running mates were Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and city Comptroller Joan Pratt.
Norris said Gansler's reported treatment of his security detail could hurt him. "It's going to annoy people. ... This is certainly not going to do him and his effort to be elected governor any good whatsoever."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun