Are staffers biding time till election?

THE POLITICAL GAME

Strategy: The Ehrlich administration is accused of filling jobs with potential GOP candidates for political office.

February 22, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

SENATE President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the consummate Democrat, is the lead opponent of investigating Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s hiring practices through a formal legislative panel. But that doesn't mean Miller likes the governor's staffing decisions.

Miller said last week that he believes the Ehrlich administration has hired several employees with the sole intention of giving them jobs until the next election cycle, when they would launch campaigns against Democratic incumbents.

Miller singled out Ken Mease, a former sports reporter for WUSA Channel 9 in Washington, who now is media relations coordinator for the state Department of Business and Economic Development's capital region office.

Mease is planning to run against Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, in the 39th District, Miller said. "This guy Ken Mease is getting paid by state dollars so he can make an eventual run against Hogan," he said.

Then there's Bradley S. Jewitt, a Marine veteran and past mayor of Berwyn Heights in Prince George's County. Jewitt ran as a Republican for Maryland's 5th District last year, losing to incumbent Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip, by 118,000 votes. But according to Miller, Jewitt is not done as a candidate.

Jewitt was hired this month as director of fleet and facility operations for the Maryland Department of Transportation. Miller said the Ehrlich administration is "grooming him for a run against Hoyer. Anyone who doesn't see it, they still believe in the tooth fairy."

Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, denied that the administration has handed out jobs as a way to groom future Republican candidates.

"Positions in the Ehrlich administration are filled based on qualifications, not political aspirations," DeLeaver said.

Former Kerry aide Epstein to join O'Malley campaign

Getting a jump on his rivals in the 2006 governor's race, Mayor Martin O'Malley has made the first big-name campaign staff hire of the year.

Jonathan A. Epstein, who helped engineer Sen. John F. Kerry's pivotal win in the Iowa caucuses last year, will join the mayor's campaign team March 1.

Epstein was Kerry's field director in Iowa, where the senator scored a come-from-behind victory that launched him to the nomination. In U.S. News and World Report last year, Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff for defeated Kerry rival Richard A. Gephardt, said: "In my experience, John Kerry winning Iowa was the single most important victory anyone has ever had."

Now Epstein will try to re-create the feat here in Maryland.

"Jonathan is one of the brightest and most accomplished operatives in the party," said Jim Jordan, a national Democratic strategist. "In truth, he could have gotten virtually any job he wanted, and it's a great thing for Maryland that Mayor O'Malley swept him off his feet. The two of them, the mayor and Jon, will be a fabulous match."

Epstein's resume includes stints as national political director for the Citizen Soldier Fund, Kerry's leadership PAC. He also was campaign director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the start of the 2002 cycle, and was the committee's deputy political director in 2000.

Steele response to Dean means national exposure

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele received more national exposure last week, when Republicans called on him to respond to remarks by new Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

On Feb. 11, the day before he was elected chairman, Dean met with the DNC Black Caucus and said, "You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room?" Then he added: "Only if they had the hotel staff in here."

Steele, who is one of the few statewide black elected Republicans in the nation, said the remark was insensitive. The RNC coordinated a joint news release with him and former Rep. J.C. Watts, also a black Republican, asking Dean to apologize.

Last Wednesday, Steele was a guest on the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, dishing up more Dean criticism. "I think it is rather presumptive to presume that the staff in the hotel is African-American. It's just that mindset that still exists in some parts of America and certainly within the party, Democratic Party, that says, `You know, we've got your vote. Where are you going to go?'" Steele said.

The lieutenant governor's remarks didn't sit well with some in Maryland. Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County responded Thursday, calling Steele's response "an extreme expression of political correctness" and "patronizing."

"Dean actually states two very evident truths," Wynn said in a statement. "First, Republicans have very few minorities amongst their ranks, and second, minorities unfortunately are disproportionately represented amongst hotel staff."

DNC's vice chairman from Montgomery Co.

On the same day Dean was chosen as DNC chairman, Susan Turnbull of Montgomery County was elected vice chairwoman with 75 percent of the vote. Turnbull is a founding member of the DNC's Women's Vote Center and an interior designer.

Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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