Larry M. Epstein, the Republican candidate for state comptroller, was headed to yet another political forum the other night when he found himself deep in enemy territory. The road sign said he was driving down the Louis L. Goldstein Highway in Calvert County.
Goldstein, of course, has been state comptroller for eight terms and is seeking a ninth. The Annapolis building he works in is named for him. Likewise the Calvert County road a state trooper drives him home on.
But, Epstein, an accountant from Glyndon in Baltimore County, found the folks in Calvert County that night were cordial and more than a little upset with their native son.
"I was really surprised how . . . the attitude was they all know Louis Goldstein and they don't think a lot about him," Epstein says. "It seems that the people that really know him say he's not quite the nice guy he portrays himself as."
Epstein, 42, has tried to unmask what he says is the real Goldstein, accusing him of job burnout, complacency and negligence.
In particular, Goldstein, as head of the board that oversees the state employees retirement fund, must be held responsible for some bad advice on pension withdrawals that could cost many state employees thousands of dollars in back taxes and penalties, according to Epstein.
"It appears nobody bothered to read the new tax laws in the state retirement fund office," Epstein says. "Louie, being head of the board of trustees, the buck stops with him."
Epstein accuses Goldstein of unfairly taking credit for the state's AAA bond rating and national kudos the state recently received for fiscal management. The legislature, he said, deserves more of the credit, thanks to things such as its self-imposed spending limits.
Finally, he says, Goldstein was too quiet while the state spent a $400 million budget surplus and ended up with a current deficit of possibly more than $300 million.
"Not once did we hear from Goldstein one thing going wrong with the government," Epstein says. "He's supposed to be our fiscal watchdog. I just think his time has passed. Anybody who's been in a job too long gets burned out."
The problem for Epstein is running against a political legend. Epstein has won few endorsements and managed to raise only about $25,000. Goldstein has refused to debate, forcing Epstein to concentrate on candidates' forums and press interviews.
Goldstein, 77, has barely changed his schedule for the campaign since he spends much of his time traveling the state anyway. He enjoys widespread name recognition and carries with him a knowledge of the state and its people that may be unsurpassed.
Epstein thinks Goldstein's close ties to politicians in Annapolis is unhealthy.
"Because they're all part of the same party, and everybody kind of protects each other over there, we lose those checks and balances," Epstein says.