By Adam Pagnucco.
It was supposed to be a good moment for Montgomery County. County Executive Marc Elrich was set to announce a phase 1 reopening of county businesses, mirroring in part the recent announcement by Governor Larry Hogan. It was an occasion for cautious optimism with sober recognition of the challenges ahead.
Instead, it turned into a mud-splattered free-for-all.
That was probably inevitable given how the event was staged. The county announced through a press release the night before that the event was taking place at the Kentlands and Bethesda Beat published it. That gave protesters time to prepare and they weren’t planning on handing out cupcakes and milk. Just two weeks ago, they descended on Annapolis – many without masks – to resist “tyranny” and “trampling the U.S. Constitution.” Why would they behave differently in Rockville?
The smart thing to do would have been to hold the event in a controlled environment in the executive office building with attendance limited to press. But the administration decided to go for a photo-op in the Kentlands’ business district instead. Well, a photo-op was had – for the protesters. They got ample coverage from NBC4, WJLA, WTOP, Bethesda Beat and even Baltimore TV that they would not have received at a controlled indoor event.
“Dictator!” “Fascist!” “Nazi!” “Liar!” “Recall!” “Trump 2020 baby, that’s what this is all about!” Those were the nice comments. The protesters repeatedly interrupted and shouted down the executive, preventing others from hearing him. At an event with such heckling, a communications person normally steps forward to cut it off early. Instead, Elrich actually took questions and prolonged the event, which went on for more than 20 minutes. The sign language interpreter even interpreted the hecklers’ comments while standing right next to Elrich.
The look on Elrich’s face (far right) says it all. Also appearing: county health officer Travis Gayles (at podium) and the sign language interpreter (far left). Credit: WJLA Facebook stream.
Besides the relentless yelling, a number of unmasked protesters stood within spitting distance of the executive and his staff. One unmasked fellow in a hat and sunglasses stood behind him for nearly 15 minutes and, at one point, got dangerously close to the executive. Police officers were present. Why did they not move unmasked protesters away from the executive and his staff to protect their health?
How could security allow an unmasked man to get this close to the executive? Credit: WJLA Facebook stream.
As for the protesters, there were enough of them to make serious noise. Just like in Annapolis, the event turned into a mass gathering with unmasked people. The COVID-19 crisis is not over. It’s a complete contradiction to the county’s message to allow – much less to CREATE – a mass gathering including unmasked individuals. It’s not just a PR blunder, it’s a threat to public health.
Note the lack of masks by some at the event. The identity of the child, who was not wearing a mask, has been protected in this photo. Bethesda Beat has several more pictures of unmasked people at the event. Credit: WJLA Facebook stream.
Let’s not mince words: the protesters were boorish miscreants who should be held responsible for their own actions. They are an embarrassment to the county. All of that said, they should never have been given a grand stage on which to run amok in front of TV cameras. Someone on Elrich’s communications team should have raised what a bad idea it would be to hold the event in public with notice to anyone who wanted to attend. Some shutdown protests around the country have turned violent and armed protesters even stormed the Michigan Capitol. The protesters succeeded in turning an announcement which should have furthered stability and progress into one that spotlighted division and chaos.
This event should not have happened.
But it did. And once again the administration has endured a communications debacle that could have been avoided.