A Republican view: Ehrlich should apologize

February 17, 2005|By Douglas MacKinnon

WASHINGTON -- Should Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. apologize? That is the question that is now fairly and unfairly fueling a political controversy that has all the elements of a mystery novel.

A longtime aide to Governor Ehrlich, Joseph F. Steffen Jr., has resigned from the state payroll after it was discovered that he was discussing and spreading a very ugly 18-month-old rumor of marital infidelity by Mayor Martin O'Malley. Both the mayor and his wife, Katie Curran O'Malley, have categorically denied the rumor and any infidelity. Said the mayor: "It is difficult to express the kind of anger a father feels in not being able to protect his children from lies."

So the question has been raised: Since Mr. Steffen was a longtime aide to Mr. Ehrlich, should the governor offer an apology?

As a Republican, my answer is yes. If not to Mayor O'Malley, his wife and children, then at least to the people of Maryland. My rationale:

As far as most American people are concerned, politics is becoming more partisan, more ugly and more destructive every day. I don't believe Mr. Ehrlich knew his aide was spreading such a story, and I do believe he would have stopped him had he known. But what if it were the governor and his wife on the receiving end of such a malicious rumor? Would he or his supporters not be asking for the same apology?

Regardless of the facts or the spin, at a certain point, the voters just want their elected politicians to act like mature adults. Common decency dictates that Governor Ehrlich should at the very least apologize for the actions of his aide. If he does, Maryland's citizens will respect him more for doing something that they have taught their children almost since birth. Regardless of blame, he should be the bigger person and just say, "I'm sorry."

At the same time, it would be a huge mistake for the Democrats to use this story for their political gain. This was an ugly rumor designed to cripple the political future of Mayor O'Malley. What it has done instead is deeply hurt and affected the mayor's children. Such pain should not now become the fodder for the Democratic attack machine aimed at Mr. Ehrlich.

Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole and was a White House and Pentagon official. He is an author.

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