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Trench Coat Politics


His January 2003 appearance rattled state government.

And soon after the mysterious figure in the dark trench-coat began handing out pink slips at the behest of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich's incoming administration, T-shirts appeared: "Ehrlich-Steele. History is Here," they said on the front, and on the back: "The Trench-coat man."

Among those who wore them was Joseph Steffen, the former Ehrlich aid and self-described "political hit man."

The legend of the Trench-Coat Man was revisited during Monday's hearing of the special legislative committee examining the governor's hiring and firing practices. On the witness seat, the person responsible for the T-shirts, the governor's deputy appointments secretary, Diane Baker.

After Baker quietly acknowledged that she printed them, Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) pressed for their meaning.

"Well, that's a good question senator," Baker said. "The trench coat man has become this urban legend, and it became this fact that there was this sinister man in a trench coat."

In fact, she said, the mysterious man was an employee in the state personnel office given the duty of handing dozens of termination notices in mid-January 2003. He wore a trench-coat because it happened to be cold that day, she said.

"In retrospect, should I have had them printed, no," she said. "It was more this is just so crazy and preposterous. Things get printed that aren't true. There was no trench-coat man, it was urban legend, that there was this secret person out there."

"And this is something you wanted to print out of a sense of pride?" Frosh said.

"I can't say why I had it printed," she said. "It was a mistake, and I told you it was a mistake."

It was a downright loquacious answer for Baker after more than an hour of testimony in which she repeatedly said she couldn't recall conversations and correspondence involving terminations from two and three years ago.

When it was Del. Maggie McIntosh's turn to question her, the Baltimore Democrat said "I'm going to lighten it up... have I met you before?"

Baker gleefully reminded McIntosh that they had crossed paths in Annapolis, and had met when McIntosh lobbied Washington, where Baker worked as an aide for then-Congressman Ehrlich in the mid 1990s.

"That was a long time ago, and you remember me?" McIntosh said, springing the trap and drawling laughs from the panel.

"Well you're an important person," Baker responded.

"Ahhh," McIntosh said.

Ray Rivera

By Phyllis Jordan  |  May 23, 2006; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Governor  
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