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Ehrlich Aide Ousted Over O'Malley Rumors

Web Postings, E-Mail Spread Affair Gossip

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; Page A01

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday accused agents of Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration of spreading false rumors that he had an extramarital affair, and Ehrlich responded hours later by dismissing a longtime employee.

The mayor, a Democrat considering a bid for governor in 2006, said he believes that the widespread and persistent rumors were part of a "concerted and orchestrated and sustained" effort and called on the Republican governor to apologize to his wife and children.

"I don't put up with this," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said of rumors being spread about the Baltimore mayor. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

Mosk on O'Malley Rumors: The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk discusses the ouster of a Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. aide on WTOP amid rumors accusing Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley of an extramarital affair.
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"I don't think any of us run for office expecting that this sort of hurt will be heaped on our kids or our spouses," O'Malley said.

Ehrlich said an apology was premature and denied any involvement in spreading the rumor. He then asked for and received the resignation of Joseph Steffen, a longtime aide working in state government. Steffen confirmed yesterday that he had discussed the rumor on a popular conservative Web site and in private e-mails, which were given to The Washington Post.

"Let me tell you, I don't put up with this, and I will not put up with this. Bottom line," Ehrlich said.

In the e-mails, Steffen wrote: "A lot of the reason that everyone knows [O'Malley's] history is because of what has gone on beneath the surface. . . . A few folks put in a lot of effort to ensure the [Martin O'Malley] story got some real float."

In an interview, Steffen, 45, said the postings were his. When asked if he was part of an organized effort to disseminate the rumors, he said, "No comment."

Rumors about O'Malley's marriage have been widespread, but he spoke about them publicly for the first time yesterday. The mayor, who has been married for 14 years and is the father of four children, said in an interview that he has never cheated on his wife.

"I have always been faithful to my wife, from our first date to this date," O'Malley said.

The rumors appeared to have no effect last fall when O'Malley handily won a second term as mayor. But over time, O'Malley said he came to believe that the rumors were spread to thwart his gubernatorial ambitions. About 18 months ago, he said he first caught wind of a story circulating about how he had fathered a child with a local television news reporter and separated from his wife. Initially, the mayor said, he believed the story would "be a strange phenomenon that would just sort of blow through."

But the story quickly became grist for an Annapolis lobbying corps that eagerly trades in gossip, and then for those in Baltimore social circles.

"I began to suspect very strongly that it was something concerted and orchestrated and sustained," O'Malley said. "It became a drumbeat and then was relentless. And the common theme and language used to push it on Web sites and the like were some of the things about it that made me feel it was orchestrated."

O'Malley said the rumors began to take a severe toll on his family. He said barely a week goes by without his wife, Catherine, a Baltimore judge, having to defend his character.

And he recalled a particularly distressing night when an aide called to tell him about identical reports pouring into a local television station's anonymous tip line. Five people had called in to say their children attended school with O'Malley's children and had heard the young O'Malleys saying, "Daddy doesn't live with Mommy anymore."

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