For the 28 years Hyman A. Pressman has been Baltimore's comptroller, Richard A. Lidinsky has been at his side. And when City Hall gathered to honor the city's fiscal watchdog upon his retirement, it was his loyal deputy who remembered Mr. Pressman as the "fearless pursuer of wrongdoers," "parade marcher extraordinaire" and "the local Fred Astaire of dancing."
And after relaying a quintessential Pressman story -- on how the comptroller opted to have plastic owls placed on the ledges of City Hall to scare off the menacing pigeons rather than string electric wire to stun them -- Mr. Lidinsky graciously borrowed a phrase from the Book of Ecclesiastes to wish his friend well: "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens . . . "
What those in the audience didn't know right then was that Mr. Lidinsky had decided that his time in city government had come as well. At age 71, after serving more than 43 years in city government under eight mayors, Mr. Lidinsky quietly announced Wednesday that he would be retiring next month. He made the announcement with characteristic understatement -- after the ceremonies honoring his boss' last meeting of the Board of Estimates.
Mr. Lidinsky's decision comes within days of comptroller-elect Jacqueline F. McLean being sworn into office Tuesday. And, although Mrs. McLean asked Mr. Lidinsky to stay on, the deputy comptroller said he decided that now was his time to stop and "smell the roses."
Consistent with his dedication to the city, Mr. Lidinsky offered to help Mrs. McLean achieve a smooth transition and, if needed, serve as an unpaid consultant.
"Ever since Mr. Pressman's health began deteriorating, I have carried on as acting comptroller to keep the office of the comptroller viable and productive as provided for by the city charter," Mr. Lidinsky told board members. "I thank everyone present and those in the past for all that has been done for me and hope that I have contributed in a positive way to the government during my tenure. God bless everyone and Happy Thanksgiving."
Mr. Lidinsky came to City Hall in 1947 as administrative assistant to Mayor Thomas J. D'Alessandro Jr., and except for a few years in which he worked in the congressional office of the late Edward A. Garmatz, Mr. Lidinsky has always worked at City Hall.
"Administrative assistants back then were the alter ego of the mayor," recalled Thomas J. D'Alessandro III, a former mayor's son who also served as the city's chief executive. "Richard . . . was the gatekeeper. He was like my father's man Friday. He is a model of what a public servant should be -- extremely competent, absolutely honest. He's just an exceptional human being. He is an integral part of the operations of municipal government at its highest level. His experience, his know-how and his judgment is really going to be missed."
Mr. Lidinsky became deputy comptroller in 1962 under Dr. R. Walter Graham Jr. In that job, Mr. Lidinsky served as clerk of the Board of Estimates, a panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials that must approve all city expenditures and contracts. He has overseen an office that monitored the comings and goings of the board and handled the bid openings for the millions of dollars worth of city contracts awarded by the board.
A deeply religious man who attends daily Mass, Mr. Lidinsky often would be called upon to give the opening prayer at City Council meetings. He was once referred to as "chief of ecclesiastical protocol" at City Hall.
A Baltimore native, Mr. Lidinsky is a committed family man whose office sported portraits of his wife of 45 years, Angela, his four children and seven grandchildren.
Mr. Lidinsky's institutional memory is as long as his service record. He was there when Mayor Tommy D'Alessandro Jr. spent the night at City Hall, negotiating round the clock with striking sanitation workers to end a garbage strike. He was there when a gunman shot and killed one city councilman and wounded two others.
He was there when Mayor William Donald Schaefer opened Harborplace. He was there when Clarence H. "Du" Burns, first black City Council president, filled the vacancy caused by Mr. Schaefer's election as governor and became the city's first black mayor. And he was there when Kurt L. Schmoke became Baltimore's first elected black mayor.
"I never had to run for office. Never had the desire to run," said Mr. Lidinsky, "yet I was always near, what would you call it, the throne? I enjoyed working with all of the mayors, all of the officials, having earned their confidence and their respect."