Ehrlich's choice of Steele presents quandary for GOP

THE POLITICAL GAME

Republicans: Party must decide if state chairman should resign to run for lieutenant governor.

July 09, 2002|By David Nitkin and Michael Dresser | David Nitkin and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

THE SELECTION of state Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele as Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate creates a conundrum for the party:

Who will fill his role while he's campaigning for lieutenant governor?

Steele says he's waiting to hear from the party's lawyers before deciding whether to resign or take a leave of absence from the chairmanship. He expects a final decision by the end of this week, but appeared to be leaning toward a leave of absence.

Under party rules, a resignation would require a convention within 60 days to pick a new chairman. That would fall about the same time as the Sept. 10 primary - something Steele would prefer to avoid.

"You don't want to be distracted from the campaign," he said.

If Steele were to take a leave of absence, party Vice Chairman Louis M. Pope would likely become acting chairman. Pope is also chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.

Steele said that before he steps aside he will represent the Maryland GOP at the Republican National Committee's summer conference in California on July 19.

He said he has seen no indication of other Republican leaders champing at the bit to take over his role on a full-time basis.

"Everybody has given me a wide berth on this," Steele said.

Pope said that if Steele does resign, he would run for the position.

Wide wealth disparities among candidates

Financial disclosure statements filed by candidates for governor and lieutenant governor reflect wide discrepancies in wealth among this year's crop of office seekers.

The reports show that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the beneficiary of several blind trusts established by her late father, Robert F. Kennedy, grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy and grandmother Rose F. Kennedy. She owns not only her Victorian home in Ruxton, but real estate in County Galway, Ireland; Hyannisport, Mass., and Chicago.

Her extensive securities holdings include 535 shares of IBM and a variety of mutual funds. In 2001, she owned fractional shares in several partnerships, including one that owns the massive Merchandise Mart in Chicago - long an important source of Kennedy family wealth before it was sold. The report does not provide a total of her net worth.

Townsend listed 13 gifts she received last year, including a $35 boxing glove from the Downtown Locker Room in Baltimore and a $75 bronze menorah from the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.

Townsend's running mate, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, initially filed a report listing no real estate holdings or other assets. Campaign officials later said it was incorrect. A revised report filed Friday shows he owns a $470,000 home in Annapolis and that his wife holds a trust worth $418,000.

On the other side of the spectrum is state GOP Chairman Steele, who told The Washington Post he has drained his retirement accounts while attempting to launch a consulting business. The disclosure forms show Steele owes $35,000 on two lines of credit, one of which is secured by his house.

The Sun reported last week that Steele also must repay a $25,000 loan from an unsuccessful 1998 campaign for state comptroller.

Ehrlich lists several mutual funds and individual stock holdings, as well as ownership of his Timonium home, purchased for $153,000 in 1996.

Murphy candidacy creates GOP problem

Confirming that he is not seeking re-election, Catonsville Del. Donald E. Murphy will try to stay involved in politics by running for chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.

But his candidacy creates a propblem for county GOP leaders.

Murphy has filed to run against the current vice chairman, Alfred Mendelsohn, a 40-year-old printing company owner who has the support of many officials because of a promise made four years ago.

Mendelsohn removed his name from contention as chairman in 1998 to allow Michelle Duffy to take the unpaid post. At the time, leaders such as Baltimore county executive candidate Douglas B. Riley said they would back Mendelsohn this year.

"Until a couple days ago, Al was the heir apparent," Riley said. "Don's decision has surprised us all. But in view of Al's willingness to step aside in 1998, and the good work he has done since then as vice chair, it would be surprising - not to mention disappointing - if most of the Republican leadership doesn't stand by him this year."

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