Doug Gansler, Maryland's attorney general and gubernatorial hopeful, Thursday defended his decision not to stop a teen beach party depicted in a recently published Instagram photo.
In the picture, young people clad in bathing suits are seen dancing on tables while red cups litter the room. Looks like a wild high school Beach Week party -- and in the middle of the photo is a man running for governor of Maryland.
"I wasn't the chief law enforcement in that state; I was there as a parent," Gansler said at a press event, explaining that he stopped in to talk to his 19-year-old son briefly. But he admitted he "should've done more" to determine whether there was underage drinking going on at the party.
The photo was published by The Baltimore Sun Thursday. Gansler's son was one of the recent high school graduates who attended the South Bethany, Del., bash following high school graduation.
Thursday afternoon, Gansler said if he had seen anyone at risk at the party, he would have tended to them and talked to the chaperones about stopping the party.
"Perhaps I should have assumed there was drinking going on, and I got that wrong," Gansler said.
He said maybe he should have investigated whether anyone underage was drinking alcohol.
"There could be Kool-Aid in the red cups, but there's probably beer in the red cups," he said.
He also said that the photo does not show him taking pictures with his iPhone. It was a new phone, he said, and he didn't know how to take pictures with it at the time. He said he was probably reading a text at the time the image was snapped.
He went in to talk to his son, who was a DJ for the party, about what time they were leaving the next day.
"I went in, talked to my son, and left," he said.
Gansler previously told The Sun he had no authority over the teens at the party.
"Assume for purposes of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party," he told The Sun. "How is that relevant to me? ...The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people's children at beach week in another state? I say no."
The photo was obtained by The Sun, and in an interview with the paper, Gansler did not dispute that the photo was accurate.
NBCWashington has obscured the identities of the others attending the party in the photo; we could not independently verify the photo.
The revelation comes amid a bumpy start to the Gansler campaign: Two days ago, Gansler paid a speed-camera ticket on his state-owned vehicle that was 16 months old. The fine had risen to $400. Gansler said the failure to pay immediately was inadvertent as he sought to determine who was driving at the time. He said it's still unclear who was at the wheel.
This summer, The Washington Post reported that Gansler regularly ordered the state troopers who drive him to speed, use their lights and sirens to get him to appointments and run red lights. Gansler responded by calling the commander of the state police's executive protection section a "henchman" of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running against Gansler for the Democratic nomination. Gansler's remarks brought a rebuke from state police, which described the reference to the commander as "unseemly and unacceptable."
Gansler has also faced some criticism over comments that his primary opponent, Brown, was running primarily on his race. "Right now, his campaign slogan is, 'Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland,'" the Post quoted Gansler saying to a group of campaign officials in July.
Now, the photo in The Sun has raised questions about whether Gansler had a responsibility to stop the partying. As attorney general, he is among the state's highest-ranking law enforcement officials.
"Do I think that this one of these sort of character assassinations set up by my opponent? Maybe," Gansler said Thursday.
The campaign of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Gansler's main opponent, issued this statement: "All I know is what I read today in the Sun. This is something for the attorney general to address, and we'll have no other comment on the matter."
Gansler starred last year in a public service announcement for The Century Council, an organization sponsored by the liquor industry that fights drunken driving and underage drinking. In the 30-second video spot, Gansler says parents are the leading influence on their kids' behavior when it comes to alcohol, noting, "It's never too early to talk to your kids about smart ways to say, 'No.'"
Council CEO Ralph Blackman said 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" to have Gansler's PSA available while his actions are under scrutiny.
Gansler told The Sun, which reported gansler was in photos posted to Instagram and a video online, that he did not feel it was his place to stop the party:
The two-term attorney general and former Montgomery County state's attorney said he had no more responsibility to shut down a party if he saw drinking than to stop teenagers walking down the street with beer cans in hand or investigate tailgate parties.
"Was I supposed to serve as the police officer?" Gansler asked. "No."
The party was thrown by recent graduates of the Landon School in Bethesda; the house was rented by a group of parents, including Gansler, who paid for their children to stay there.
The Sun obtained a list of rules that the parents established for the house, which included having two chaperones per night, and prohibitions against driving, having girls behind closed bedroom doors or drinking "hard alcohol." But, The Sun noted, the rules did not forbid drinking beer or wine.
"As a parent of a 19-year-old, I face the same issues as many of you," Gansler said Thursday. "How do we get it right?"