Surprise! Louie's running again!

Frank A. DeFilippo

April 29, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

ANYONE out there who's thinking of running for stat comptroller had better forget it. Louis L. Goldstein wants to bless us all real good with another term.

One more term. At 80 yet. He's been saying that since he was first elected comptroller in 1958. So for the umpteenth time, Mr. Goldstein's getting ready for another election -- his 10th for comptroller, his 17th all told.

To underline the point, Mr. Goldstein's staging a "Birthday Celebration and Salute to Service" May 5 for about 1,000 close friends. At $150 per, he expects to raise plenty for the slow dance through the 1994 election.

The letterhead committee is a roundup of the usual suspects. And for the occasion, the irrepressible comptroller was even able to enlist Maryland's political odd couple, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose names will appear on the same sheet.

(Curiously missing from the list of pooh-bahs is House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent. The two had a falling-out over Mr. Mitchell's reorganization legislation, and Mr. Mitchell never responded to the invitation to join the cast of 20 honorary chairs.)

Tipper Gore, wife of the vice president, will be on hand to help dress up the scenery at Martin's West, and so, too, will a videotape from President Clinton. That is, if Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, remembers his assignment and gets the tape.

So instead of accepting a gold watch, Mr. Goldstein's still as peppy as ever and says as long as people want him he'll stay on the job. His campaign message is simple: Somebody's got to be around to protect the state's credit rating.

While that might seem a stretch, there's a lot of truth in it. Mr. Goldstein's the down-homer the state trots out to schmooze with Wall Street brokers and senior bankers whenever Maryland has a big bond sale scheduled or the annual triple-A evaluation comes due.

Mr. Goldstein cornpones them into submission, tells the pin-stripers stories about good wife Hazel and the lovin' spoonful of honey he has for breakfast every morning -- even invites them down to the Eastern Shore for some goose hunting. That, citizens, is the way bonds are sold and ratings are retained.

The comptroller's other assault weapon is his seat on the three-member Board of Public Works. From there Mr. Goldstein presides over the public interest like a mother tiger protecting her cubs. He can drive a governor bonkers.

As a board member, it was Mr. Goldstein who challenged Harry R. Hughes and his Department of Transportation on the contract awards for the Baltimore subway. And during the first four years of the Schaefer administration, Mr. Goldstein's antidote to Mr. Schaefer's "do it now" was "stop and think."

Although Mr. Goldstein gets much of the credit for Maryland's financial stability during good times, he's been up against tough criticism over the past three years of bad times. As chairman of the Board of Revenue Estimates, his projections have been short of the mark eight straight times. As a result, there have been eight rounds of budget cuts, and Mr. Schaefer eventually hired ++ his own back-up revenuer.

On the high side, though, Mr. Goldstein recently was saluted by the Wall Street Journal for being a step ahead of the federal government in the computer technology that Maryland uses to process its income tax returns.

Moreover, the comptroller's data processing system is so advanced that Mr. Goldstein's computers run 24 hours a day and do virtually all the processing for other state agencies. So it's ironic to recall that Mr. Goldstein once described computers as "idiots." Another point he likes to tout is that the comptroller's staff has been cut back to the same lean size it was in 1977.

Mr. Goldstein dismisses the suggestion that he give up the job he will have held for 40 years. And before that, he served three terms in the state Senate, advancing through the ranks to majority leader and eventually president, and two terms in the House of Delegates.

He's strayed from the safety of the comptroller's job only once. In 1964, he was pressured by the organization Democrats of Gov. Millard J. Tawes and his string-puller, George H. Hocker, into running for the U.S. Senate against Joseph D. Tydings, the ranking shiny-bright of the day as U.S. attorney for Maryland and a Kennedy insider. In that election, Mr. Goldstein carried only two counties -- his own Calvert and neighboring St. Mary's. He's never forgotten the humiliation.

With his kind of resume, Mr. Goldstein has a number of "mosts" -- most Democratic national conventions attended, for example, and unofficial world-champion parade marcher. He's also believed to be the longest-serving statewide elected official in the nation.

Despite his age, Mr. Goldstein's a dervish of a campaigner and a certified Maryland historian. And he's the namesake of the Louis L. Goldstein Chair of Public Policy at Washington College, of which he's a graduate and chairman of the Board of Governors and Visitors.

Two of those audacious enough to even mention running against the comptroller are Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, who's being reapportioned out of his center-city district, and Republican Sen. John Cade of Anne Arundel County, a fiscal wizard who's tired of the Senate after 20 years.

But who knows? One more term may lead to another. And another. And another . . .

Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other Thursday on Maryland politics.

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