Boy Scouts, the governor and ... Hitler?
It's almost never a good idea to compare a politician to Hitler or the devil -- let alone to do so in writing.
But that’s just what Douglas B. Riley did as he tried to inspire his friends to come to a breakfast benefit for the Boy Scouts of America. Riley, a Republican attorney who was once a member of the Baltimore County Council and ran unsuccessfully for county executive and state Senate, figured his colleagues needed a little push since the guest speaker is Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Riley, who is a chairman of the annual fund-raising event for the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, sent a March 12 letter to about three dozen of his friends and supporters. He wrote: “I’m inclined, though, to quote Winston Churchill in praise of Governor O’Malley and his support for our cause:
"I'm inclined, though, to quote Winston Churchill in praise of Governor O'Malley and his support for our cause:
'If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.'"
While the letter is on what appears to be campaign stationery, Riley is not a candidate for any office this year.
O'Malley's aides obtained a copy earlier today and called the Boy Scouts. Riley learned of the inquiry and called the governor's chief of staff, Matthew Gallagher, to apologize. Riley also emailed an apology.
Riley explained in an interview, that he "wasn't trying to compare O'Malley to the Nazis or anything like that."
"I was teasing myself," he said. "I was, not immodestly, comparing myself to Winston Churchill."
The context -- not included in the letter -- is that Churchill delivered the infamous line when members of Parliament questioned why he had sent supplies to the Soviet Union after Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Churchill was outspokenly anti-Communist.
In this scenario, Riley said, he had "been in the trenches for years" working for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and yet now here he was asking people to come listen to O'Malley speak. His letter noted that a similar breakfast fund-raiser a few years ago with Ehrlich generated a huge turnout.
"I am really, honestly, sorry about it," Riley said of the letter. "I feel like it's been misinterpreted."
Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman, said Riley had apologized.
"There’s no place for references like this in our public discourse," Abbruzzese said. "Regardless of his political views, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Riley would use this kind of language to solicit support for the Boy Scouts of America."
O'Malley plans to attend the Friday breakfast.