Louie Goldstein Resurfaces

August 14, 1993

In recent years, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein has been a shadow of his former self. Yes, he remains a member of the powerful Board of Public Works that approves hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, but he's been overshadowed and perhaps intimidated by Maryland's assertive governor, William Donald Schaefer.

No longer.

The old Louie Goldstein has resurfaced -- feisty, ornery and determined to have his say, if not his way. He is challenging the administration's actions in a manner that cannot please the governor.

Last month, Mr. Goldstein harangued bureaucrats for several hours over no-bid contracts they presented. Growing public alarm about non-competitive deals -- and our own editorial objections -- apparently persuaded Mr. Goldstein to look at these awards more critically. The contracts were eventually approved, but not without officials getting a severe going-over for not seeking bids.

Then last week Mr. Goldstein voted "no" on the purchase of the Shillman Building in downtown Baltimore. The state paid too much, the comptroller maintained. He was outvoted 2-1, but again his message was loud and clear.

On another matter, Mr. Goldstein's nay vote proved pivotal. Again responding to public and editorial criticism, the comptroller rejected an expansion of gambling. He voted against a contract to buy 300 instant-lottery vending machines. When Treasurer Lucille Maurer voted "yes," it was up to the governor. But he refused: "I don't feel like being spotted. . . in favor of gambling," he said, though Mr. Schaefer has been the prime mover in the lottery's recent expansion.

The tie vote led to a postponement of the decision. Mr. Goldstein will have another chance to argue his case. He worries the machines will entice juveniles to buy lottery tickets.

While Ms. Maurer has proved a compliant member of the board, nearly always siding with the governor, Mr. Goldstein is once more exhibiting his iconoclasm. He's been comptroller for 35 years and his fiscally conservative dissents have frustrated many a chief executive. Now he is doing it again.

We welcome this show of independence on matters that warrant close scrutiny. It is far too easy to go along with Mr. Schaefer rather than endure his wrath. But that does not further the public good. Perhaps Mr. Goldstein realized he's up for election again next year. Or perhaps he is worried, as we are, about the state's over-reliance on gambling revenues and the proliferation of no-bid contracts.

Either way, it's grand to have the old Louie Goldstein resurfacing as the Board of Public Works' resident scold. Not only will he enliven the meetings, he guarantees there will be healthy debate and dissent on this key government panel.

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