Goldstein's 'last run' may be a bumpy one

June 30, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

AROUND the time Jim Moorehead was just in diapers, Louis L. Goldstein had already been in the General Assembly on and off for 20 years.

And when Mr. Moorehead was a short-pants Democrat entering kindergarten at the age of four in 1958, Mr. Goldstein won his first of nine consecutive four-year terms as Maryland's comptroller.

Now at an irascible 81, Mr. Goldstein is at it again, reaching for a 10th term, his last, he says. But hey, he's said that before, too.

He says he's running to provide fiscal stability in Annapolis at a time of massive upheaval.

"The next four years are going to be as challenging as the last four years have been," Mr. Goldstein says. "To keep Maryland moving forward, to maintain our reputation for fiscal integrity and to continue providing services to Maryland citizens, we need an experienced hand at the financial helm."

But Mr. Moorehead, who at 40 is half Mr. Goldstein's age, wants to include the redoubtable comptroller in the sweep-out as well.

The Montgomery County lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney has accused Mr. Goldstein of "incompetence and corruption," which in these parts is seditious talk, kind of like denouncing the Washington Monument or Fort McHenry or even the new ballpark at Camden Yards.

Mr. Moorehead's underlined such impudence by making Mr. Goldstein's age an issue as well as his financial dealings during his more than three decades as comptroller. And he's done so in an 80-page briefing paper that's essentially a mish-mash of musty newspaper clippings.

"Looking over this wasteland of inefficiency and indifference is a lethargic comptroller's office, too comfortable, too secure or just too tired to summon the energy and vision required," Mr. Moorehead charges. "The current comptroller has allowed his office to whither away to a shadow."

Say what? First, nobody's ever pointed an accusatory finger at ++ Mr. Goldstein, let alone investigated or indicted him. Second, in the age of the American Association of Retired Persons and the graying of America, raising the issue of age is just plain dumb politics. And third, the slowdown in income tax returns was caused by a computer meltdown that forced Mr. Goldstein to ask the Board of Public Works for $900,000 to hire temporary help to accelerate the process in an election year.

Mr. Moorehead remains undaunted. He's raised nearly $250,000 for his campaign and he's completed the first volley of those cheap-shots but nevertheless entertaining "Louis, Louis, Louis" radio ads.

Yet, despite the fact that Mr. Goldstein is running 50 points ahead in the most recent polls, Mr. Moorehead's upstart behavior appears to be getting under his normally leathery skin. For in truth, Mr. Goldstein's had free, if not easy, rides during most of his career as comptroller.

For the first time in 30 years, he's sending out campaign news releases when normally he'd be confident enough to do what he usually does -- answering his own phone in the comptroller's office then going out and making five speeches a day.

Beyond his duties as comptroller, Mr. Goldstein'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 (and does) drive a governor bonkers.

Although Mr. Goldstein gets much of the credit for Maryland's financial stability during good times, he has been up against tough criticism during three years of bad times.

As chairman of the Board of Revenue Estimates, Mr. Goldstein's projections had been short of the mark eight consecutive times. As a result, there had been eight rounds of budget cuts, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer eventually hired his own back-up revenuer.

On the high side, though, Mr. Goldstein has been 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, even though the equipment is now on the fritz.

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 Triple-A bond rating.

Yet, Mr. Moorehead persists, vaguely, that Mr. Goldstein is using the comptroller's office as a "private playground" and has "misused this office for years."

And he's saying it about a man who has held elective office for 56 years, been named "Mr. Democrat" by the Maryland Democratic Party, and had a bridge, a highway and the building he works in named after him. Go figure.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes from Owings Mills.

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