Farewell to Hyman Pressman

December 02, 1991

There will be a changing of the guard at City Hall tomorrow when Jacqueline McLean succeeds Hyman Aaron Pressman, Baltimore's city comptroller for 28 years. As Mr. Pressman leaves, a rich and colorful career in public service ends.

The 77-year-old Mr. Pressman is the only city comptroller most of today's Baltimoreans have ever known. That he was recognized by even those who had scant knowledge of the comptroller's office is a tribute to Mr. Pressman's gifts as a politician and self-promoter. Many may have forgotten his early contributions as a civic gadfly and self-appointed watchdog, but few have forgotten his incurable urge to scribble poetic doggerel for every occasion or his funny hats worn in countless parades where he always was a big hit. In fact, the public's reaction in Mr. Pressman's first big parade was a political revelation to him: "The higher I raised my legs, the more they applauded, and the more they applauded, the higher I raised my legs."

Among things often forgotten about Mr. Pressman is that he was one of the last Republicans elected to office in Baltimore City. In 1963, he narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Councilman Henry R. Hergenroeder Sr. The Republicans were only too eager to tap Mr. Pressman for their "fusion" ticket, which was headed by Theodore R. McKeldin, the popular ex-governor and mayoral candidate. The move helped get both of them elected. (Of course, city Democrats quickly changed the law to prevent any such surprises in the future. As for himself, Mr. Pressman meekly became a Democrat again).

As a headline-hungry lawyer, Mr. Pressman had been willing to take on anybody. He defended black politicians trying to break free of white political bosses; he once led a parade to Friendship Airport, fed $5 in nickels into a then-legal slot machine disguised as a cigarette dispenser and complained loudly, "They don't give a sucker an even break."

When he moved to City Hall, he hired a staff of diligent auditors who sustained his claim of being the taxpayers' watchdog. He was able to maintain that reputation even after failing health made him little more than a signature at the end of the minutes of the weekly Board of Estimates meeting.

They don't make politicians like Hymie Pressman any more. He will be missed.

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