The conflict in Yugoslavia continues to dog the campaign of U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, as her press spokesman conducted a very public resignation yesterday morning, claiming he had lost his argument to change her position on Serbian matters.
The scene next to Mrs. Bentley's Towson office on Joppa Road bordered on the bizarre.
In front of a sign calling for the four-term congresswoman's re-election, Blaine Taylor, dressed in a Vietnam-era Army uniform, read a handwritten statement attacking Mrs. Bentley while expressing his admiration for her and admitting his own emotional problems and his problems with alcohol. Mr. Taylor resigned Friday.
Standing next to Mr. Taylor was Mrs. Bentley's opponent, Michael Hickey, who denounced her activities on Serbian matters. Mr. Taylor pointedly did not endorse Mr. Hickey.
"I am wearing my Army uniform from Vietnam today with my medals and decorations as a measure of my sincerity in appearing here with this Marine Corps colonel," Mr. Taylor said, referring to Mr. Hickey, a colonel in the Marine Reserve.
Mr. Taylor was immediately followed by another Bentley spokesman, Michael Kosmas, who claimed Mr. Taylor's resignation was the culmination of a variety of outbursts and acts of insubordination, including threats against the congresswoman.
Later in the evening, Mrs. Bentley cut short a public meeting at the Towson Library when she found the audience dominated by about 25 people who opposed her stance on Serbia. She invited any 2nd District residents who were present to continue the meeting at her congressional office.
A Serb by descent, Mrs. Bentley was active in forming Serb-Net, a lobbying group for Serbians, and continues to serve as its honorary president. Serbian-Americans have donated over $80,000 to her campaign.
She has been accused of spending an inordinate amount of her time, and of improperly using her congressional staff, on Serbian issues and on defending a nation most have condemned for its activities in the war in the former Yugoslavia.
Mr. Taylor said he had "great respect, love and admiration for Mrs. Bentley," noting that she had given him a job 18 months ago when he lost his previous job.
"In private, I have done my best to change Mrs. Bentley's course on the Serbian issue," he said. "It is my belief that we had no business being involved in this in the first place. [Mr. Hickey] has made allegations that staff time and energies were used on the Serbian issue, and he is right."
He offered no specifics or documentation to support his charges of inappropriate use of Mrs. Bentley's congressional staff, saying he didn't want to jeopardize people still on staff.
Mr. Kosmas, the Bentley campaign spokesman, said Mr. Taylor was not Mrs. Bentley's press secretary but a press aide. However, the current copy of the Congressional Handbook lists him as the staff's press secretary.
"His responsibilities are primarily clerical," Mr. Kosmas. "They do not involve policy, he is not a senior staff member. That has caused problems in recent weeks for Mr. Taylor because he has sought to make decisions on his own that have not been approved by the congresswoman or senior members of the staff."
Mr. Kosmas said Mrs. Bentley offered to put Mr. Taylor on FFTC 30-day paid leave so he could seek help for his problems. When he did not take the offer, he was "disassociated" from the staff.
Yesterday, Mr. Taylor handed out a copy of a sympathetic letter he received from Mrs. Bentley making that offer. He received it Saturday, the day after he had resigned.
"Mr. Taylor has not sought help but has rather sought this course of action, leveling ridiculous charges against a woman who has been nothing but good for him," Mr. Kosmas said. "He chose to bite the hand that's feeding him rather than deal with his personal problems."
Mr. Kosmas also said Mr. Taylor left a variety of remarks on Mrs. Bentley's answering machine "with a very slurred voice, obviously having too much to drink, leaving threats against Mrs. Bentley."
Mr. Taylor acknowledged his drinking problem, but said, "I would never threaten a member of Congress, a woman I have high regard for."
In a prepared statement, Mrs. Bentley said she was "disappointed that Blaine has followed this course of action. . . . I find it disturbing and even outrageous that my opponent, Mike Hickey, used the opportunity presented by the obvious illness of Blaine Taylor to plug his own candidacy. . . . Using an ill veteran for one's own benefit is a new low in Maryland politics."
Officials in the Hickey campaign said Mr. Taylor contacted them Saturday and requested Mr. Hickey's presence at the news conference. Mr. Taylor, who is $40,000 in debt, said he had no promise of a job from Mr. Hickey should he make it to Congress.
"I hope this matter will go away," he said. "Will Mrs. Bentley win the election? Probably. Am I bound for Siberia? Most likely."