Riley draws fire with reference to Hitler

Republican quoted Churchill urging friends to attend Boy Scout fund-raiser featuring O'Malley

March 26, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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 what some people think Douglas B. Riley did as he tried to prod his associates into attending a business community fundraiser for the Boy Scouts of America that features Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley as speaker.

Riley, a Republican who was once a member of the Baltimore County Council and ran for county executive and state Senate, figured his right-leaning friends and colleagues needed a push since they might not be politically in tune with the governor.

A Towson attorney who is a chairman of the annual fund-raising event for the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Riley sent a letter March 12 to about three dozen friends and supporters, striking an apologetic tone about the choice of a guest.

"I'm inclined, though," he wrote, "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 it was not entirely clear whether Riley was linking the governor to Hitler, the devil or neither, the O'Malley administration expressed concern after seeing a copy of the letter on Thursday. Aides to the governor called the Boy Scouts to ask if they knew about the letter. They did not.

Riley learned of the inquiry and called the governor's chief of staff to apologize. He 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 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.

Riley said he thought the allusion was apt because he had "been in the trenches for years" working for former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and yet he was now asking people to listen to O'Malley.

His letter noted that a similar breakfast fundraiser a few years ago that featured Ehrlich generated a huge turnout.

Riley said about 200 people attended, raising $15,000. The next year, when Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil was the speaker, 120 people came."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, called Riley's language "unfortunate" and said "there's no place for references like this in our public discourse."

O'Malley plans to attend the Friday breakfast.

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