The man at the center of an emerging controversy over Internet postings about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's personal life is a Baltimore County native, longtime political operative of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and unpublished novelist who writes horror and science fiction in his spare time.

Joseph F. Steffen Jr., 45, who resigned yesterday after word spread that he was the author of Internet messages on the subject, is divorced and lives in Rosedale. He grew up in Reisterstown, graduated from Franklin High School and said he bypassed college for the world of politics.

He said his writing ability - he called himself "naturally gifted" - has made him a valuable player in political campaigns. Over the years, he has worked in public relations, finance and payroll, sometimes for political groups, sometimes for private companies. He did not give details.

Steffen said in a telephone interview last night that he has worked for the state departments of Human Resources and Juvenile Services and - most recently - at the Maryland Insurance Administration. He said most of those positions had to do with public relations and communications.

He was director of communications with the insurance administration until he resigned abruptly yesterday after questions from a Washington Post reporter about Internet postings he made at www.FreeRepublic.com.

Steffen said he posted comments on the Web site after work or on the weekends, but said he never did so during the workday.

He said wryly that the information he posted referring to O'Malley's personal life was not written "out of kindness." But, he added, no one in the Ehrlich administration asked him to post it.

"It was more speculation that, yes, these rumors were out there," Steffen said. "But I realized that by posting them I was promulgating them."

Steffen said he decided to resign yesterday when he realized that the reporter was going to write an article about the FreeRepublic site messages he'd written and that it could create problems for Ehrlich.

"If I am taking the fall, it is because I did something stupid of my own volition," Steffen said.

He said he would return to his Baltimore office today to clear out his desk and write an official resignation letter.

As for his future, he said he was unsure what he would do next. Shop around his novels? Spend more time at home?

"That I don't know," Steffen said.

Last night, at the conclusion of the interview, he headed out the door to a bar where he planned to meet some friends.