A hard-hitting attack on Maryland's nine-term comptroller, Louis L. Goldstein, is scheduled for launch today on Baltimore and Washington area radio airwaves, courtesy of an aggressive challenger named James B. Moorhead.
Two commercials blast the folksy, 81-year-old tax collector for his personal financial dealings and his office's record on promoting women and minorities. Together, the ads set a bruising tone for the Democratic primary election campaign. Both men are Democrats.
Set to the tune of The Kingsmen's 1963 hit, "Louie, Louie," one of Mr. Moorhead's 60-second ads raps the incumbent for "becoming a multimillionaire while on the government payroll."
A female announcer says Mr. Goldstein publicly endorsed a proposal by a utility company a week after selling it some expensive land. She also cites him for selling 66 acres of land for more than $5 million after telling the Internal Revenue Service it was worth $18,000.
In an interview, Mr. Goldstein categorically denied any wrongdoing. He noted that his land sales have been hashed out in news accounts over the years, disclosed to the State Ethics Commission, open to public scrutiny and found to be blameless.
In the first instance, he acknowledged selling a $900,000 property to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. in 1984 and endorsing a coal pipeline proposed by the utility days later. But he said his support for the pipeline had "nothing whatsoever to do with that property sale."
In the second, he said, he had nothing to do with the fact that tax assessors had placed an $18,000 value on the 66 acres he sold in 1989. He and other owners of farmland benefited from a state tax program that his office did not control, he said.
If these ads are any sign, Marylanders can expect a spirited contest between Mr. Goldstein, who has been comptroller since Eisenhower was president, and the challenger, who is making his first bid for public office.
The ads are "very hard-hitting," but probably necessary for a newcomer challenging such a popular, entrenched politician, said independent pollster Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. in Columbia.
"To beat Louie Goldstein, that is the type of campaign you have to run because he's a very popular person. He's been comptroller since before I was born," Mr. Coker said. "You can't ++ run a feel-good campaign against Louie Goldstein and beat him because he is Mr. Feel Good."
A son of rural Calvert County, Mr. Goldstein has traded on his charm and affable ways for a half-century in various political offices. He has been Maryland's tax man and chief financial officer for 36 years, making his favorite phrase, "God bless you all real good," synonymous with his name.
Some Marylanders consider him a political icon, a constant in the changing Annapolis landscape.
Mr. Goldstein complained last week that Mr. Moorhead is dredging up old newspaper stories about his land deals, as some of his challengers have done in previous elections. "Every time I run they bring out all this old stuff."
As for Mr. Moorhead, Mr. Goldstein said, "This man is out here and unemployed and trying to make some noise and stir things up."
Mr. Moorhead, 40, of Rockville, has left his job as a principal at a Montgomery County law firm to work full time on the campaign. He is a former federal prosecutor.
Mr. Moorhead said the incumbent is running on his 36-year record, so his past is fair political game.
"Our goal is to have voters, for the first time in the last 36 years, take a close look at the incumbent's record and make a judgment based on his performance, not his personality," he said in an interview last week.
Toward that end, Mr. Moorhead spotlights the comptroller's hiring record in the second of the two commercials airing today.
The ad features three chatty "newscasters" who criticize Mr. Goldstein for not putting more women and minorities in top jobs during his 36-year tenure. Those announcers contend that Mr. Goldstein has hired no women and only one African-American to direct the treasury's seven divisions.
Mr. Goldstein, however, disagreed with Mr. Moorhead's count. He said he considers two high-ranking white women on his staff to be the equivalent of division directors. Until six years ago, the comptroller said, he had trouble hiring women and minorities for those jobs because he had to promote people from a list of names generated by the state merit system. Those lists contained few, if any, blacks or women, he said.
He said his professional staff of auditors, accountants and others is 62 percent female and 19 percent minorities. "I'm color-blind. I've hired handicapped people," he said.
The same commercial also hits Mr. Goldstein for his role in overestimating state revenues during the recession, mistakes that led to repeated budget cuts.
The charge is not new. Gov. William Donald Schaefer turned to an outside fiscal adviser two years ago because he had lost confidence in the revenue-estimating board to which Mr. Goldstein belongs.