Former U.S. attorney Stephen H. Sachs attempted to make convicted Baltimore financier Irvin Kovens a major campaign issue in the Maryland attorney general's race yesterday by claiming that Kovens is behind an effort to discredit Sachs' candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the office.
Sachs predicted that Kovens would direct a smear campaign against him and try to manipulate his opponents in the race by funneling money to their campaigns. When asked for proof of these charges, Sachs gave circumstantial evidence from sources he refused to name.
"I'm proud to be on Mr. Kovens' hit list. He doesn't scare me. I am running and I will win whether Mr. Kovens likes it or not," Sachs said at a press conference.
One of Sachs' three opponents, Jon F. Oster, said he regretted having to reply to Sachs' statements and repeated that he did not want the financial support of Kovens. "There are enough legitimate issues in the race without having to talk about Mr. Kovens," said Oster, deputy attorney general of Maryland, and considered a strong opponent of Sachs.
Kovens, who admits he dislikes Sachs, denied earlier that he is doing anything to hamper Sachs' campaign. "I'm staying out of politics this year on the advice of my attorney," Kovens said in a recent interview.
The emergence of Kovens as a campaign issue in the attorney general's race coincided with recent accounts of the role suspended Maryland governor Marvin Mandel has played in this year's gubernatorial race and has created a new theme in the statewide campaign. Candidates are now denouncing any continuing presence of convicted political figures in Maryland politics.
Mandel, Kovens, and four other businessmen were convicted last August of defrauding the citizens of Maryland through a corrupt scheme to manipulate the state legislature. After it became known that Mandel helped arrange the gubernatorial ticket of Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and his running mate Steny Hoyer this summer, two of Lee's opponents issued statements attacking Mandel.
"What I'm saying is that a governor convicted of a felony in violation of his public trust should not have part in putting together a ticket," said Harry Hughes, Democratic candidate for governor and former state secretary of transportation.
Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, criticized Mandel, saying he was continuing to be a front man for the political machines of the state.
Yesterday Sachs said that Kovens was working against him because, as former federal prosecutor, "I represent a threat to everything Mr. Kovens has stood for in all the years he has haunted Maryland's corridors of power."
Oster was described by Sachs as an old and personal friend, an honorable and decent man like the other attorney general candidates, but also someone who "may be duped" by Kovens.
Oster said he would not be anyone's candidate and said he had spoken only once with Kovens. "He (Kovens) called me in connection with a lay-a-way plan problem he has had with our consumer protection division, (at the attorney general's office). I mentioned to him I was planning to run and he told me he was taking no part in the campaign."
Sachs also made his most severe attack to date on the way Attorney General Francis (Bill) Burch has run his office. He said that Burch's plea bargain with the Rev. John Guido Carcich, who was initially charged with misappropriating millions of dollars he raised for charity, was an example of how the office "fell on its face."
Oster questioned many of Sachs' blanket attacks on his office and defended Burch's handling of the Carcich case. "It was a very tough decision . . . It was a decision that took guts, and right or wrong I admire Burch for doing it," Oster said. "If he proves to be wrong it is one of only a few mistakes the man has made in 12 years of office."
Sachs also reiterated his plans to make stepped-up protection for the environment, consumers and taxpayers part of his platform.
Oster replied that such plans were certainly commendable but he also pointed out that the attorney general could not make such reforms by himself, that he would need the coopertion of the governor and the General Assembly.
"I've had experience in tax assessments and consumer protection while he (Sachs) has spent his time as a prosecutor or criminal defense attorney," Oster said.