Washington (CNN) - Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said Thursday he should have done more to investigate alleged underage drinking at a high school beach party this summer.
Gansler, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2014, admitted that not doing more was a mistake, but said that “regret” might be too strong a term to describe how he was feeling.
“Maybe in this case, I should have done something differently,” Gansler said at a press conference. I “probably should have” tried to “investigate whether there was drinking going on, and then taken action on that.”
Gansler told reporters that he only spent a few minutes at the June 2012 party, where “there may have been some college students or others drinking beer.” Gansler was forced to address the controversy after the Baltimore Sun published a story about his presence at the party, including a photograph of him in the crowd.
He went there, Gansler said, in order to tell his 19-year old son about what time their family would be leaving the beach the next morning.
Gansler’s son was in South Bethany, Delaware, according to the attorney general, for “beach week” – a celebratory week after high school graduation where students rent beach houses.
The attorney general said he stopped by the party after a work dinner but said “there was no sort of drinking in my face.”
“I was there as a parent,” Gansler said, noting that he isn’t Delaware’s chief law enforcement officer. “There were chaperones there. I figured they probably had it under control. To the extent there was anything going on that was bad, I didn’t see any.”
He continued: “Perhaps should I have gone around the house and looked. Or asked the chaperones whether there was any underage drinking going on. You know, we all make those judgments. We make them at the time.”
Gansler said his son was not drinking at the party. At various times throughout the press conference, he tried to distance himself from responsibility.
“I wasn't the chaperon. I didn't buy the beer or anything like that,” he said. “I showed up, talked to my son, and left.”
Advocates against underage substance abuse have criticized Gansler for not doing more to stop the party, telling CNN the fact that he was there solely as a parent doesn’t absolve him from responsibility.
“Every parent has a moral obligation to protect our children, whether it's their children or other children,” Michael Gimbel, former director of Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse told CNN.
“If you walk into a party where there's underage drinking, and wild behavior because of drinking, whether you're a regular parent or whether you’re the attorney general of the state of Maryland, you have an obligation to protect our children, to stop them from hurting themselves.”
Gimbel continued: “I would think he has a responsibility, a moral responsibility, if nothing else. But the fact that he was observing illegal behavior and condoning it, I think was wrong.”
The party, according to the Sun, occurred in a rental home. After the party, according to minutes from a South Bethany Town Council Meeting, “there was about $50,000 worth of damage done to the house.”
Julie Barnes, who cleaned the house after the rental, told the Sun that the damage included “wooden floors rippled from moisture damage, dents that appeared to be made from high heels on the bar and pool table, and floors sticky from what smelled like beer.”
At a town meeting, local police said that damage occurred due to “criminal mischief.” At his press conference, Gansler rejected the idea that the damage came from the party.
“I didn’t stay in the house. I didn’t check out of the house,” Gansler said. “But when the parents that were chaperoning checked out of the house on the Friday morning… the house was totally clean, totally clear, no damage whatsoever. … Later on, that night, there were actually vandals that came into the house apparently and caused an enormous amount of damage.”
As attorney general, Gansler has been an outspoken critic of underage drinking and has filmed public service announcements about the issue.
“Parents, you're the leading influence on your teen's decision not to drink,” Gansler said during an ad for The Century Council, a group that fights against underage drinking. “It's never too early to talk with your kids about smart ways to say no.”
Gansler said on Thursday that filming such ads while not doing more at the beach party was not hypocritical.
Earlier this year, Gansler declared he was running to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The Democrat is considered a strong candidate by most political watchers and has posted strong fundraising numbers so far – with nearly $5.2 million in the bank and over $1 million raised in 2013.
- CNN’s Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.