Todd Huff isn't the first Baltimore County councilman to be arrested for drunk driving, and if he's convicted of the crime, he won't be the first in that regard either. And we will not delude ourselves by expecting him to be the last to face such charges — at least not in a nation where 1.4 million people are arrested annually for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
But the circumstances of Mr. Huff's arrest are disappointing to say the least and raise serious questions about his judgment — not only in his choice to get behind the wheel of his county-owned vehicle after drinking enough at the Towson Elks Lodge to record a .20 on an alcohol breath test but in telling police after his arrest that he wanted to call "Jim Johnson," an obvious reference to the county's police chief. Did he expect to use his position on the council to get special treatment?
Most of what can be determined about Saturday's incident comes from the police report. Mr. Huff on Monday issued a statement indicating that he intends to give up his county-owned vehicle, as a "first step toward accepting the consequences of my behavior." He claims to regret his "decision" and says he would offer "no excuses."
But while such remorse is a commendable first step, there are many more questions raised by the rather thorough seven-page police report. It paints a picture of a 44-year-old driver who was highly intoxicated, failed a field sobriety test badly and wanted to either bully or wheedle his way out of the charges.
"Don't you know who I am?" the councilman allegedly told police after he was stopped along York Road (having pulled into the parking lot of one of his family's Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Centers as if that granted him some immunity). The government SUV he was driving had been observed traveling at 2:30 a.m. without headlights on and stopped suddenly at a red light past the crosswalk (the driver evidently having failed to recognize or break for the stoplight earlier).
A .20 blood alcohol level is more than twice the legal limit, and it would take more than the "few drinks" Mr. Huff admitted to police for a man of his size to reach that threshold. Perhaps something along the order of a half-dozen more than a "few." One can only wonder what might have been running through the mind of someone that impaired — or through the minds of anyone around him who might have prevented him from getting into the driver's seat that night.
Four years ago, then-Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley was found guilty of driving while impaired after causing a four-car pileup in West Baltimore. We did not call for Mr. Moxley to resign from his position at the time and, even if he is found guilty, we would not call on Mr. Huff to do so either. If everyone ever charged with driving under the influence of alcohol for the first time was forced to resign from their jobs, a lot of families would go hungry.
But whatever happens in court, we would counsel Mr. Huff — just as we did Mr. Moxley in 2009 — that he has a responsibility to come clean to his constituents.
A judge likely won't be interested if the councilman wanted to call the police chief or the man on the moon, as there's no criminal charge for loutishness. But his constituents have a right to know what he expected to achieve. Or why he thought informing the police officer who pulled him over that he was a county councilman was going to get him some form of special treatment. Is that how Baltimore County operates, or at least how Mr. Huff expects the police department to conduct its business? None of that territory is covered by the councilman's statement.
Mr. Moxley eventually admitted to being an alcoholic. We have no idea what factors might have played a role in Mr. Huff's behavior. But he needs to offer more than regret. An elected official does get a form of special treatment in this world — he's going to be scrutinized more closely. That's how democracy works. Drunk driving is too serious a problem to be ignored or for police to look the other way when a local councilman is suspected of doing it. And too many Maryland politicians have acted in recent years like they deserved special treatment for Mr. Huff's constituents to look the other way either.