Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler disparaged Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's military service, drawing outrage from a veterans group Monday as the two top Democrats contending for the governor's mansion clashed over Brown's work history.
A political action group that represents veterans — and has endorsed Brown — demanded an apology from Gansler after he suggested Brown’s work as a military lawyer in Iraq was not “a real job.”
Gansler’s campaign, meanwhile, criticized Brown for omitting a brief stint at the investment bank Merrill Lynch from his official biography on the state’s website. The campaign pointed to Brown advertisements that say, “When many of his generation chose Wall Street, Anthony chose military service.”
The squabble over Brown’s work history began Monday morning at a gubernatorial candidate’s forum in Bethesda. There, Gansler implied Brown’s work as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves did not qualify him to be a leader.
“I'm running against somebody who has never managed anything, never run anything,” Gansler said. “There are ads about how he was a lawyer in Iraq — and that's all fine and good — but this is a real job. And we need to have somebody who actually has leadership experience, who has done projects.”
The remark sparked outcry from the political action group VoteVets.org, whose chairman called it "slime ball politics."
“It’s a horrible insult to all those men and women who put their lives on the line, and especially those who died, in service to this country,” Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, said in a statement.
Brown served five years as an Army helicopter pilot in Germany during the 1980s and earned a Bronze Star for his 10-month deployment to Iraq in 2004, Brown's campaign said. Brown worked as a lawyer in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Brown's campaign released the following statement on his behalf late Monday: "Doug Gansler's remarks this afternoon were reckless and irresponsible. They demonstrate a disrespect and disservice to our nation's veterans and the men and women who serve in the military. Today there are hundreds of thousands of men and women serving in the armed forces in different locations, performing different duties, and I can assure Doug Gansler that each of them has a real job."
After Gansler's comments about Brown's service ricocheted around the Internet Monday, his campaign issued a statement that revised his earlier remarks.
"I want to clarify comments I made in the middle of a forum today about Maryland's failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act and Lt. Governor Brown's leadership," Gansler said in the statement. "I have the utmost respect for his military service and for veterans. The point I was trying to make is that Anthony Brown's only attempt to lead as lieutenant governor was the unmitigated debacle of the health exchange website that denied Marylanders access to health care and cost taxpayers nearly $200 million."
Brown was the point person for implementing health care reform in Maryland, and the state’s online insurance marketplace at the heart of the Affordable Care Act has been riddled with glitches. The state announced this month it would abandon its software for a system that worked better in Connecticut.
On Monday, Gansler’s campaign also said Brown mislead the public about his work history.
In 2000, Brown filed a financial disclosure form that listed a five-month employment as financial consultant for Merrill Lynch. But until late Friday, the state’s official biography left out that work.
“He's trying to spin his background, and tell voters one thing, when really he did another thing,” Gansler’s communications director Katie Hill said.
Brown’s chief of staff, Maia Estes, said staffers updated the biography after discovering the inadvertent omission — and an error about the length of Brown’s tenure at a law firm — when responding to reporters’ questions about his work history.
“It wasn't an attempt to avoid to conceal,” Estes said of the omission, adding that the website is now “consistent with what has been provided on financial disclosure forms.”
Del. Heather R. Mizeur is also running in the June 24 Democratic primary election for governor.