Lapides leaving Senate to run for comptroller

June 01, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The General Assembly's good government gadfly is looking for a new place to buzz around.

After nearly a third of a century representing the city in Annapolis, State Sen. Julian L. "Jack" Lapides, D-Baltimore, said yesterday that he will not seek re-election this year.

Instead, the Bolton Hill legislator -- an ethical "conscience" of the Senate who has often gotten under the skin of those in power while going his own way -- said he will be a candidate for city comptroller in 1995.

Mr. Lapides said his decision is based on two factors: legislative redistricting and the knowledge he gained in Annapolis.

Redistricting put Mr. Lapides' home in a district presided over by Sen. Larry Young, a veteran black legislator. Mr. Lapides, who is white, faced an uphill battle against Mr. Young in a district where 80 percent of the voting age population is black.

Mr. Lapides said he decided to seek the comptroller's post also because of the fiscal experience he gained as a member of the Senate budget committee and the joint ethics committee, which he co-chaired.

"I think I would truly bring an independent voice to city government in Baltimore," Mr. Lapides said in an interview in his law office. "The city needs somebody who cares about public spending," he added.

The comptroller is the city's fiscal watchdog overseeing the audit department and sitting on the Board of Estimates, the body that approves city contracts and other financial matters.

Mr. Lapides, 62, said he had been considering a bid for the comptroller's post for several months. Two other politicians have expressed an interest in the post, the third highest in city government. The filing deadline is more than a year away.

Fourth District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III said last week he would run for comptroller in 1995. And his 6th District colleague, Joseph J. DiBlasi, said yesterday that he is "very likely" to be a candidate though he is not yet prepared to make an announcement.

"I wish him well," Mr. DiBlasi said. "I'm sure he is one of a number of people who are going to seek citywide office next year."

Mr. Bell said, "I really don't want to comment on anybody else that's running at this point."

A second-term councilman, Mr. Bell is one of the top contenders to fill out the remaining term of indicted Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean if Ms. McLean is forced to resign before her term expires in 1995. The other top contender, 5th District Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, has said she would serve only on an interim basis and would not be a candidate for the post next year.

Mr. Lapides said he would be a candidate for comptroller in 1995 "regardless of who will get the interim appointment."

The Baltimore native was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1962. He was elected to the Senate four years later.

During his tenure in the General Assembly, he authored a tough financial disclosure law and pushed for tougher regulation of lobbyists. He also opposed projects ranging from the lottery to public funding for what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards and fTC used his position on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to grill bureaucrats on the way money is spent for everything from public television to public higher education.

"I've always been tight with public money -- as I've been with my own money," Mr. Lapides said.

"He'll be sorely missed," Sen. Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the budget and tax committee, said of Mr. Lapides. "Jack has been called over and over again the conscience of the Senate. He has been sort of the guardian of the ethics of the state."

"He is his own person," Mr. Levitan added. "He tends to be able to smell a rat whenever one seems to exist -- that's one of his specialties."

His independence proved too much for his city Senate colleagues, who in 1985 dumped him as chair of the city's Senate delegation after he did not support legislation considered critical by the city administration.

Mr. Lapides said he worries that no one will take over his role in Annapolis. "I hope there'll be somebody to pick up the mantle of nay-saying," he said.

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