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He can't hide, and he won't run


Call him Prince of Darkness. Darth Vader. Or, if you want to get on his good side, the Angel Moroni. Just don't call him candidate for governor.

Joe Steffen's not running.

"I really have decided not to run," Steffen told me yesterday. "The main reason is, most people thought I was doing it just to be vindictive - to be a jerk or be vindictive. I have no personal animosity toward anybody. I didn't want it to come across looking like I did."

Is this the same Joe Steffen who cultivated a foreboding image as an Ehrlich administration aide, one charged with rooting out slackers (Democrats, critics say) from state government jobs? The guy who lost his job for gossiping about Mayor Martin O'Malley's personal life on the Internet? The one who seemed to turn against his former boss, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, when he said a few months back that he might run for governor as a Libertarian?

Steffen said his well-reported dark side is just that - one side of his personality, not the whole thing.

"I had a statue of the Grim Reaper. Yes, I had Darth Vader," he said, referring to decorations on his desk at various state agencies. "I also had a statue of the Angel Moroni [like those on Mormon temples]. I collect icons. I mean, they were all there."

Steffen said his desire to run for governor was based on heartfelt libertarian principles - pro-gambling, pro-gay rights, anti-taxes - not a desire to stick it to Ehrlich or, for that matter, to O'Malley, who is running in the Democratic primary. Steffen also figured, "I've got high name ID."

By dropping out, Steffen figures, he's protecting that good name.

Just sign it - you can read it later

Foes of gay marriage question whether the matter should be decided by "one judge." But last week, its fate seemed to hinge on something far flimsier: absentmindedness or sleight of hand.

It's not clear which it was, or which would be worse. But Del. Rosetta Parker said she didn't know what she was signing when she provided the 47th and final signature needed to petition the bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote.

The Prince George's County Democrat said a delegate - she wouldn't say who, but confirmed that it was not petition-drafter Don Dwyer - came to her office Thursday to ask her to sign on. She said she was busy looking over other bills she'd been asked to co-sponsor, and she kept signing away as he talked. At some point, she said, the delegate put the petition down on her desk, atop the pile of bills she'd already read, and she signed it by mistake.

"When he laid it on my desk, I just automatically picked it up," she said, adding that she wasn't sure if the delegate tricked her or if it was just a mix-up. "I just need to be more careful next time when someone comes with a bill."

Dwyer, who never got to use the petition because House Speaker Michael Busch cut the House session short, had another explanation: political pressure from the Democratic leadership.

"Any legislator that would sign something that they don't know what they're signing, I think that's a sad excuse," Dwyer said.

Dwyer noted the about-face of Del. Emmett Burns, who signed the petition on Jan. 24, then begged off in a handwritten note the next day.

"I will not remain on Petition to the House Floor for same-sex marriage Bill," Burns wrote. "The Speaker has indicated a full hearing on the Bill."

"I don't see any inconsistencies in what I did," Burns told me yesterday, adding that he is still against gay marriage. "I have been in the past, am now and will be in the future."

We thought botany was about boats

Hell hath no fury like a botanist scorned.

Newspapers tick off readers all the time, but usually not with pretty flower pictures. But The Sun did it the other day with a shot of forsythia in bloom that ran with a story about mild winter temperatures. That's because the flower pictured wasn't forsythia, but winter jasmine, which always blooms this time of year.

Of course, Maryland has a proud history of misidentifying yellow flowers. Every year for Preakness, black paint gets dabbed in the center of South American chrysanthemums so they look like black-eyed Susans, the state flower, which doesn't bloom until months after the race.

Receiving the keys from the city

A woman dropped her keys down a Baltimore storm drain about 6:30 the other morning and called 311 in a panic. The lady on the other end of the phone was sympathetic but bureaucratic - she said it would take seven days to get somebody out to help.

Luckily, the city came through sooner than that. A crew was there by 8:30 a.m. and retrieved the keys in a matter of minutes.

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