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As Long as We Remember...

December 27, 2005

The Real Princes of Darkness

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last February, the Maryland State Democratic Party was apoplectic over former Ehrlich Adminsitration appointee Joe Steffan and his involvement in spreading rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and marital infidelity.

According to news accounts and Democratic Party press releases, all of the talk about Mayor O’Malley’s conduct was a fabrication of the GOP, more specifically the Ehrlich Administration. This ignores the fact that every prominent state political official had heard these rumors, and even Mrs. O’Malley made mention of the rumors long before Governor Ehrlich came on the scene.

While the story was first breaking, a question arose regarding the indentity of the individual who first encouraged Mr. Steffan to discuss the O’Malley rumors on an Internet blog site.

Elected state Democrats dismissed any concerns over the identity of that shadowy figure, more worried about Mr. Steffan and his role in evaluating state employees. Democrats saw a direct correlation between breathing life into the Internet rumor story and Mr. Steffan’s role as the despised “Prince of Darkness,” who worked in several agencies identifying at-will employees who could be replaced with loyal Ehrlich supporters.

That sounds callous, when long-serving employees who were appointed as loyal supporters of a previous administration are singled out and replaced by new folks who helped the incoming administration get elected.

If you stop and think (something I am not accusing state Democrat party leaders of), it really is fairly obvious that a new governor, especially when the interval between party changes has been 38 years, should have the right to put loyal and philosophically aligned senior officials in place.

Joe Steffan played a high-profile role in this process, making himself an easy and vulnerable target for angry revisionists looking to turn back the clock on political change.

Mr. Steffan was an admitted political junkie, involved in several campaigns, including that of Governor Ehrlich. He admitted to being a prolific blogger, communicating with a broad network of similar minded web-based political junkies.

It was in this framework that Mr. Steffan wandered into a carefully designed trap. Not that anyone should harbor sympathy for a dellusional self-aggrandizer, but it’s one thing to go and spread rumors without prompting, quite another to be led into the act as part of a larger political strategy.

The blog site in question, , issued a press statement last week identifying an employee of the state Democratic Party and a volunteer in the O’Malley campaign as the owner of the MD4BUSH email name that queried Mr. Steffan, writing as NCPAC, and encouraged him to explain the rumors.

If that weren’t bad enough, a Washington Post Annapolis reporter, Matthew Mosk, also appropriated the MD4BUSH identity. Mr. Mosk apparently used the identity to confirm Mr. Steffan’s role in the web rumor-mongering drama.

So, now we have a Democratic Party official, using a misleading identity, drawing Joe Steffan into making claims that were almost guaranteed to damage Governor Ehrlich’s reputation, whether or not the governor had anything to do with the rumors.

To make the sublime ridiculous, a Post reporter is led to the story hook, line, and stinker! Matt Mosk had to be told that by using the MD4BUSH identity, he could trap Mr. Steffan, just like the Democratic Party had. Clearly, if Mr. Mosk had used his real identity, Joe Steffan would never have responded the way he did. One is right to wonder how Mr. Mosk knew to use the MD4BUSH tag; the Democratic Party operative had to tell him.

In a goofy form of unofficial confirmation, the State Democratic Party announced that Josh White, the executive director, is being shifted to another role at party headquarters. Shortly after that announcement Mr. White resigned just before the Christmas holiday.

However, before Mr. White’s resignation, the Democratic Party announced that Communications Director Derek Walker has assumed the lead party role. Mr. Walker’s initial commentary is that the change had nothing to do with the Steffan thing (YEAH, RIGHT), and that Mr. Steffan and the Ehrlich Administration’s conduct is more aggregious than whatever “innocent” connection might be drawn between the Democratic Party and using fake identities and a special relationship with a newspaper to mislead someone online.

Derek Walker is the perfect party director. In addition to his statements on the Steffan affair, Mr. Walker has also weighed in with his opinion on the hiring of Bo Harmon, a paid political consultant, to run the Ehrlich re-election effort.

Mr. Harmon has some national political history. He was the campaign manager for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia. Senator Chambliss unseated former Senator Max Cleland, a Democrat and diabled Vietnam veteran.

Senator Chambliss made Senator Cleland’s voting record on the War on Terror a central focus of the campaign. It is a legitimate political debate to challenge the advertising in this race, some of the commercials were very controversial, too personal for my own taste.

As soon as Team Ehrlich announced Mr. Harmon’s hiring, new party leader Derek Walker, Mayor O’Malley, and the Democratic leaders of the State House all voiced their outrage and righteous indignation over Governor Ehrlich’s decision to bring in the architect of the anti-Cleland campaign ads.

Unfortuantely, the actual ad creator has come forward and dismissed the connection to Bo Harmon. The political strategist for Senator Chambliss’ campaign announced on December 15 that he created the ad campaign, and that Mr. Harmon had absoutely nothing to do with the ads or their message.

He went on to say that all of this talk about messaging and Senator Cleland’s bravery and service was merely an attempt to disguise a senatorial voting record out-of-step with the majority of Georgia voters.

Almost instantly, Mr. Walker responded on behalf of the Democrats. He dismissed the announcement, leaving us to assume that while he had no direct knowledge of events that occurred in Georgia, his inherent intellect provides him the power to divine the “real” truth in spite of available evidence to the contrary.

Masters of political hyperbole abound. They can be found on TV, in newspapers, even here on The Tentacle. If you’re looking for the best political hyperbolists, look no further than Democratic Party headquarters in Annapolis. There you’ll find the real Princes of Darkness, who are – no doubt – busy cooking up some new way to manipulate the mass media and mislead Maryland voters into returning to the failed leadership demonstrated so well by the Democratic Party leadership from 1969 to 2002.

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