Skip to comments.Where is Joe Steffen, the 'Prince of Darkness'? [a.k.a. FReeper NCPAC]
Posted on 05/27/2006 7:58:05 PM PDT by conservative in nyc
He wore a black trench coat, called himself the "Prince of Darkness," and proudly mounted a Grim Reaper figurine on his desk. Then he went from state agency to state agency marking Democrats for firing.
He's Joseph F. Steffen Jr., who spawned a year-long, $1 million investigation of what he was doing in state government. He came into Maryland politics with a bang, and has exited like a dark shadowy figure of old mystery radio shows. Now, just about every political junkie in Annapolis is asking the same question: "Where in the world is Joe Steffen?"
A special committee that convened to investigate firings by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration was supposed to wrap up its work on May 22.
But it didn't as its members, too, wondered where Mr. Steffen had gone off to.
Mr. Steffen promised he would talk, and even did an interview with the legislature's special counsel. But he never showed up to testify.
Mr. Steffen could not be reached for comment.
Committee members extended their tenure for two weeks as they search for him. Only, the committee can't force Mr. Steffen to do anything if he refuses to comply - even if they find him and serve him with a subpoena. Republicans are asking, "What's the point?"
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of Somerset County, the top-ranking Republican on the committee, said Democrats are just digging a deeper hole for themselves on a mission that has yielded absolutely no proof of anything illegal.
"The public thinks this is a waste of time," he said. "It is a waste of time. I think it just perpetuates that, the Kangaroo Court."
Ever since he was outed in an online political chat room last year, Mr. Steffen has been a minor celebrity. He resigned from his job working for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for using his computer to spread rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Mr. Ehrlich's political nemesis.
Now he's vanished, and theories of his whereabouts are spreading around the State House.
Democrats, still smarting from the fresh wounds of their friends being escorted out of agency buildings by armed guards, as administration officials printed up T-shirts saying "Making History: Ehrlich 2003" and "Trench coat man," have their own ideas of where Mr. Steffen is.
Hell, Mich., Chicken, Alaska and Tightsqueeze, Va. are just a few suggestions from Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson.
In a dispatch from his office this week, Mr. Paulson said he heard Mr. Steffen was spotted in Hell trying to convince the mayor to fire half the city workforce, and vowed to testify under oath about it - then disappeared.
"No one in Hell could figure out what he was talking about," Mr. Paulson said with a chuckle.
Audra Miller, spokesman for the Republican Party, is not laughing.
"We doubt the taxpayers will find $1 million wasted for this witch hunt as amusing as the state Democratic Party finds it," she said.
Here's how Mr. Stoltzfus summarizes the year-long probe of Mr. Steffen and others in the Ehrlich administration: The first Republican governor in a generation takes office and starts replacing people in state government, including mid-level bureaucrats, with loyalists.
He fires about 300 out of 7,000 people known as "at-will employees," who serve at the pleasure of the governor. The governor gets a little bit "excited," and his people do things like hanging "You're fired" signs on the empty chairs of fired employees, many of whom happen to be Democrats. And that's it, he said.
"So far it's come up with nothing, and the taxpayers end up holding an empty bag," Mr. Stoltzfus said. "It's unfortunate."
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, another member of the committee, said the actions by government officials who did the firing were not only "juvenile," but "terrifying if you're a career civil servant."
The state constitution prohibits firing anyone because of gender, race or political views, Mr. Frosh said, despite the common meaning of the terms "at-will." He said such antics hurt morale in agencies that are supposed to be working for the public.
Administration officials were united in saying Mr. Steffen had no clout, and no major role in firing people.
Mr. Frosh also said he made a "mistake" voting for legislation that created many of the "at-will" positions in 1996, long before Mr. Ehrlich became governor. The committee will likely recommend making hundreds of jobs merit positions, meaning employees can only be fired with cause.
Local politics were dragged into the sordid affair as well, complete with their own mystery man.
The state's special prosecutor implied that Phil Bissett, a county executive candidate who used to work for the Department of Natural Resources, made sure that Democrat Diane Evans was fired from the agency after four years as a low-level liaison to legislative committees.
Ms. Evans is known in local Republican circles as the Benedict Arnold of county politics, because she switched to the Democratic party in 1998 to run for county executive against Republican John Gary, a friend of Mr. Bissett's.
She said she knew she could get fired, but was still shocked when it happened.
Mr. Bissett was asked to testify before the committee, but was not subpoenaed. He declined, and instead filed a statement that he didn't fire anyone.
C. Ronald Franks, secretary of the natural resources department, said he was the one who fired Ms. Evans, and it had nothing to do with her party affiliation.
"My business with that committee is over," Mr. Bissett said.
But Mr. Steffen may still have business remaining with the committee, Mr. Frosh said.
"We want to take every step we can take to see if we can find him," Mr. Frosh said. "He's the guy who was in this thing up to his eyeballs."
Based on years of experience dealing with "civil servants", it's about time that some of them were terrified about losing their jobs...
Obliquatory, just down the street...
Thanks for the update.
Thanks for the ping.