Ehrlich decries MD4Bush praise

O'Malley thanked Internet user who helped expose aide spreading rumors about mayor

December 18, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. criticized yesterday Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a rival in the governor's race, for praising a surreptitious Internet user who lured an Ehrlich aide into circulating rumors about the mayor's personal life.

Speaking on his bimonthly WBAL radio show, Ehrlich said MD4Bush, the screen name of an anonymous visitor to a conservative Web site, discussed rumors about O'Malley and insulted Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, and should not be applauded.

On Friday, O'Malley, a Democrat, said he wanted to thank MD4Bush for helping expose the role of an Ehrlich aide in talking about the mayor's personal life. The Internet user coaxed another freerepublic.com visitor, who used the name NCPAC, into talking about O'Malley and how rumors were being spread.

NCPAC, later revealed to be Joseph F. Steffen Jr., said that a few people worked behind the scenes to give the rumors life. The Internet exchange was later provided to a Washington Post reporter, who wrote a story about it.

Steffen - a longtime assistant to the governor repeatedly accused by politicians running against Ehrlich of employing dirty campaign tricks - resigned in February, although Ehrlich says he fired him. After that, rumors about the mayor subsided.

Praising MD4Bush, Ehrlich said, is "weird and strange and inexplicable, and I don't get it."

The mayor "is praising a person who went on the Internet to repeat rumors that were around here for years and years and years. And don't forget: Years ago it was members of the City Council who were spreading the rumors," Ehrlich said. "The story is old. Please, mayor ... fill two minutes with your school system, with your crime rate. Do something. But no one is buying this stuff. Particularly me.

"So, message to mayor: Come out with it. If there was some operation here, a bunch of Democratic operatives got out of hand, come out with it, and we'll go on to talk about education, higher education, and jobs and the economy and the Chesapeake Bay. That's what we're supposed to be doing in the first place."

An O'Malley spokesman said last night that "we don't have any interest in Governor Ehrlich's whining."

"He still hasn't been honorable enough to take responsibility for 20 years of dirty tricks, on every one of his campaigns, by Joe Steffen - and instead he hired Bo Harmon to replace him," O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said in a statement. "Obviously, people are smart enough not to fall for his distractions."

The latest chapter in the MD4Bush story unfolded last week when freerepublic.com officials confirmed that one of the e-mail addresses used to register and maintain the account came from the Maryland Democratic Party.

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

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