A social media firestorm erupted this week surrounding an Olympic gold medalist’s endorsement of a Denham Springs mayoral candidate.
Ben McDonald formerly pitched for LSU, MLB and U.S. National baseball teams. Recently, he made a less high-profile appearance, shown in campaign ads for candidate John Wascom posted online and in The Livingston Parish News. But the obviously Photoshopped image ended up sparking a controversy.
Wascom’s opponent, Gerard Landry, on Thursday took to Facebook to question the legitimacy of the ads and challenged Wascom to “acknowledge this intentional misrepresentation to the voters of Denham Springs.”
The following day, McDonald distanced himself from the whole race through a text transcribed on his wife’s Facebook page.
“It was never my intention to endorse or to not endorse either candidate. I live outside the city limits, therefore I do not have a vote. I gladly took a picture with a button on my shirt with Mr. Wascom at a (Denham Springs High School) Yellow Jackets football game,” he said through his wife Nicole Smith McDonald’s Facebook account.
He said he also would have taken a photo with Landry and called both candidates “great guys in our community.”
“P.S. I am trying to bow hunt and while typing this a big doe just got by me,” McDonald wrote.
Wascom said the whole incident began when a mutual friend arranged a meeting between him and McDonald during which the former baseball pro could be snapped taking a photo wearing his campaign pins. At the time, McDonald said Wascom helped him when he served on the city parks and recreation board, according to the candidate.
McDonald allowed him to attribute a quote to him, Wascom said. His campaign decided on “John Wascom for mayor would be a home run for Denham Springs.”
When he submitted the ad to the parish newspaper, Wascom said he was told the reflective pins were hard to make out, and the image was Photoshopped to make them larger and clearer.
He posted on his Facebook page an original photo from the session as proof, in which the two men stand together wearing Wascom’s campaign pins.
Wascom and Landry pointed fingers and made disparaging comments at each other Thursday and Friday, squabbling in interviews, Facebook posts and public statements about whether the endorsement was legitimate or authorized.
“I am personally disappointed. ... This is not the direction I wanted this campaign to go,” Landry wrote.
“I’m really disappointed in my opponent,” Wascom said.
City Councilwoman Annie Fugler, a Landry supporter, inserted herself into the fray as well.
“The issue here is that a person who wants to be in control of, and run our government, was intentionally deceitful and outright lied to the people of (Denham Springs),” she wrote on the Livingston Parish Politics Facebook page.
“There is not fabrication ... only sour grapes,” Wascom wrote on his Facebook page Thursday.
“By the way, (McDonald) knew all about the fact that the photo was for the newspaper for my campaign. So smile it will be over in 11 days.”