- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

BEL AIR, Md. (AP) — A Harford County Council president running for re-election has asked an opponent in their Republican primary to remove a controversial aide from his campaign staff, saying Joseph Steffen’s presence could hurt party candidates across Maryland.

Robert Wagner, president of the Harford County Council, told candidate Aaron Kazi in a letter Thursday he was “extremely disappointed” that he had allowed Mr. Steffen, “better known as the ‘Prince of Darkness’ for his notorious smear campaigns,” to work on his campaign.

Mr. Steffen, a longtime aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was fired after he admitted spreading rumors on the Internet about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. He is also at the center of a probe by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly into the Ehrlich administration’s hiring and firing practices.

“Governor Ehrlich was right to reject this brand of politics by firing Mr. Steffen,” Mr. Wagner wrote. “It stands at odds with our values as Republicans. And it undermines every Republican’s political campaign in Maryland to clean up government.”

Mr. Steffen recently returned to Maryland to work with Mr. Kazi after traveling and doing out-of-state consulting work. Lawmakers have been looking for him to testify in their probe.

Mr. Kazi, a technology firm owner, said Mr. Steffen is working as a volunteer and would remain on his campaign. He also accused Mr. Wagner of breaking the law by having a county secretary e-mail the campaign-related letter.

Mr. Wagner “talks about how he’ll never stoop to ugly tactics, but by sending this letter, he’s showing he can get down and dirty,” Mr. Kazi said. “We’re running a clean campaign, and we sincerely hope the incumbent joins us on the high road.”

Mr. Steffen told the Baltimore Sun that Mr. Kazi was “the reason I’m back” in Maryland politics.

“This is the type of guy, if you can’t get into his philosophy and energy, you just can’t get into it,” he said.

Mr. Kazi called Mr. Steffen “a hero to the right” who has energized his campaign. He also said “real Republicans” don’t believe Mr. Steffen did anything wrong.

Greg Massoni, an Ehrlich spokesman, declined to confirm a claim by Mr. Kazi that Mr. Ehrlich supports his candidacy “100 percent.” However, he suggested that Mr. Wagner “will have to answer for [his] votes,” a reference to his vote against the appointment of David R. Craig, a Republican, to county executive last July.

Mr. Wagner has been critical of Mr. Ehrlich, saying Harford County has received few benefits from the Republican governor.

“You tell me what [Ehrlich’s] brought here,” Mr. Wagner said. “I don’t see a lot of initiatives that have come here that we should really be elated about.”

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