Irvin Kovens, a long-time behind-the-scenes figure in Maryland's politics, suggested yesterday he may be more of a friend than a foe to Stephen H. Sachs, who is running for state attorney general.

"I've helped Steve with his career before and my friends are helping him now," Kovens said in an unusual press release apparently seeking to remove himself as a target for Sachs's attacks during the campaign.

Sachs, the former U.S. attorney, who built his reputation on prosecuting political corruption cases, has cast himself as an innocent victim of Kovens, claiming the powerful boss has him on a political "hit list."

"He (Kovens) is capable of the smear, and I predict that will occur," Sachs said at a recent press conference, adding that Kovens would support any of his opponents in an attempt to defeat him.

"I don't understand why Steve would say a thing like that," said Kovens, who was convicted last year in the corruption trial of now suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel. "Some of by best friends are supporting him."

Sachs, who initially seemed confused by Koven's remarks, replied with tongue firmly placed in cheek: "It's the ultimate smear. He smeared me with himself. I stand by every sylable I said in my press conference."

"He's smearing himself all over me and it won't stick," he continued in a more serious vein. "The people who are supporting me are doing it despite Irv Kovens not because of Irv Kovens."

In the press release that was hand delivered by an employe of his family's furniture sotre, Kovens said he was "hurt and disappointed that Steve would attempt to disassociate himself from the many friends of mine who helped raise money for his campaign."

Kovens noted that one of his friends and business associates, Calman J. Zamoiski Jr., who served as Sachs' chief fund raiser, wrote a glowing recommendation for Kovens for his probation file.

"I normally don't brag or give press releases either, but I ask you, does that sound like the kind of guy who'd go around smearing candidates?" Kovens asked after quoting a paragraph from the Zamoiski letter.

Kovens, Maryland's premier fund raiser for the past two decades, then listed 10 members of the Sachs' finance committee, including some he said he knows personally, and suggested they be contacted for questioning.

Call any or all of them and ask if I've ever smeared any candidate, he said.

Kovens repeatedly claims he has decided to stay out of the current statewide campaigns. But in a note of resignation, he said, "I wish I hadn't retired from politics. This year looks like fun."