Sean Patrick Maloney, an out gay Democratic candidate for state attorney general who often argued that he was the contender with the ideas and passion to do the job best, chose to end his quest with a shocking Primary Day campaign mailing.

Late in the day Tuesday I learned that voters in Chelsea and Grammercy Park received a Maloney mailing that day with the cover image and text shown here—the shadow of a man beckoning an innocent young boy with his index finger menacingly crooked. Inside, under the header “A Safe and Secure New York,” Maloney was quoted saying, “Online predators are snakes in the nursery. This job is to crush those threats.”

Throughout his campaign, Maloney had spoken often of protecting unsupervised children from online predators—just as he had talked of fighting violence against women, abuse of seniors, and illegal gun trafficking. Surely, law enforcement has an obligation to go after adults who sexually abuse children or endeavor to do so. That almost goes without saying.

It staggers the mind, however, to contemplate why Maloney chose to use graphics that evoked one of the most grievous blood libels used against gay men throughout modern times—that they prey on young boys. If one thinks that stereotype has been consigned to the dustbin of history, one merely need look to the only voluntary response that the Roman Catholic Church made to its pedophile priest scandal—its announcement that it would actively purge its seminaries of gay men and those suspected of being so.

As a last minute clutch for votes, the mailing recalls the eleventh hour ads that Bill Clinton, Maloney’s former boss, ran in 1996 on Christian radio stations in small markets trumpeting his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act—the president had illusions that a 50-state sweep was possible.

For sheer ugliness, the flyer is reminiscent of the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad, in which Vice President George H.W. Bush used a frightening mug shot of a convicted black killer who later raped a woman while on a weekend furlough, under a Massachusetts program overseen by his opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis.

The only factor mitigating the damage here—and it is no defense of Maloney—is that probably no neighborhood makes a less welcoming community for this advertising message than Chelsea.

It is tempting to close by noting that Maloney is fond of saying, “When you’re Irish, sooner or later the world’s going to break your heart,” and that his final campaign mailing allowed all his LGBT voters to be Irish on Primary Day.

For me, however, that would be an evasion. This newspaper gave Maloney its endorsement last week—before the mailer surfaced—and I am the captain of this ship. So I will simply say mea culpa and I pledge to do better.

—Paul Schindler