Maybe it's just the crowd I run with, but ever since I moved to Baltimore at least half the conversations I've had about Mayor Martin O'Malley seem to include the question, "Do you think he cheats on his wife?" His rumored infidelities are a basic building block of civic life here. They even inspired, or are widely assumed to have inspired, a subplot last year on HBO's The Wire.
Today both the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post reported that Joseph Steffen, until last night an aide to Governor Bob Ehrlich, had been posting those rumors pseudonymously to FreeRepublic.com. Steffen has been fired, and Ehrlich denies any involvement in a whispering campaign. But not everyone believes that, given that O'Malley is a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year.
From the Post's report:
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."
While I suspect there was a concerted effort to spread such rumors, I doubt that they began as a Republican plot to thwart anyone's gubernatorial ambitions. Unsourced reports of O'Malley infidelities were circulating way back in 1999, the first time he ran for mayor. That hardly means that they're true, let alone that the later tales of bastardry are accurate, but it does suggest that this problem was dogging him before he had a shot at running the state -- and before the GOP had a governorship to defend.
Freepers respond to the story here.