A Democratic candidate for governor in Maryland has come under harsh criticism for using the word “prance” to describe the behavior of a campaign rival who is openly gay.
Alec Ross, an entrepreneur and innovation expert, was interviewed following a Democratic primary debate in which he appeared to criticize lawmakers in Annapolis for talking but not producing results, reports The Washington Post.
Since Rich Madaleno is the only member of the General Assembly running on the Democratic side, many interpreted the comments as a dig at the state senator from Montgomery County, who has performed very well in debates and forums but has failed to gain traction in polls of primary voters.
“The difference between me, and like, a state senator, is a state senator prances around Annapolis talking about these issues, whereas an entrepreneur and somebody with real executive branch experience like myself has actually done it and knows how to do it,” Ross said in remarks caught on videotape.
The word “prance” immediately caught the attention of the Victory Fund, which advocates for the election of out LGBTQ people to public office — and has endorsed Madaleno in the race. The Victory Fund tweeted a 28-second video highlighting Ross’ remarks, and included a link to its website, encouraging viewers to sign up to “‘prance’ with Rich and other targets of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.”
“Intentional or not, the reality is LGBTQ candidates frequently face homophobic dog whistle attacks in blue and red states,” Elliot Imse, director of communications for the Victory Fund, said in a statement. “When we hear them, it’s important for the community to call it out.”
Madaleno’s campaign also called out Ross for his statements, calling his choice of words “poor and insensitive.”
“Alec Ross certainly wouldn’t say Rushern Baker is ‘prancing around’ Prince George’s County, or that Krish Vignarajah was ‘prancing around’ while serving First Lady [Michelle] Obama’s staff,” Madaleno’s campaign said in a statement, referring to two other Democrats in the race.
In an interview, Madaleno defended his legislative record and said Ross’ word choice was “interesting.” He also said the comment showed a “disrespect of the entire legislative process.”
Other gubernatorial candidates have also piled on to criticize Ross, with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and attorney James Shea tweeting links to the Victory Fund video and saying the comments were inappropriate for a gubernatorial candidate.
Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery Co.), who is a lesbian, tweeted about the comments, as did openly gay Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who tweeted: “@AlecJRoss, LBGT members of the [Maryland General Assembly] are known for writing the MD budget, passing earned sick leave, creating affordable health care and protecting homeowners [against] water liens. We don’t have time to prance.”
Ross has since offered a half-apology, saying he feels bad if his comments were misconstrued. But he has insisted that he was not attacking Madaleno over his sexuality.
Brian Gaither, a co-founder of the Pride Foundation of Maryland, told the Post he believes Ross’ comments were meant as a criticism of the showboating done by politicians on both sides of the political aisle in Annapolis.
“Every legislator in Annapolis at some point prances, preens and parades,” Gaither said. “The entire city is full of a lot of vanity.”
Ross’ running mate, out lesbian brewery owner Julie Verratti, took to Twitter to defend her running mate in a series of tweets, saying that Ross is a “good + decent person who made a poor language choice,” and accused Madaleno of launching a “smear campaign” that is “sad and pathetic.”
“At least once a week I’m called ‘sir,’ and several times a month I’m chased out of the women’s bathroom,” she tweeted. “Do you know what I do when this happens? I use empathy, and I take the opportunity to open someone’s mind about what it means to be an LGBTQ person. If we want to change the world, then it is our job to help people learn — not to try to shame them for a mistake.”
She also directly addressed Madaleno, writing: “Rich, you are making this about you and not about the people of Maryland. This type of smear campaign is sad and pathetic. And it’s a losing strategy. … Your outrage comes off as disingenuous and I’m floored you can do this with a straight face. Many people have become cynical about politics and this smear campaign tactic you are doing is a prime example of why.
“Save your fire for those who are really against us, Rich. Alec and I will be on the frontlines of that fight with you.”
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