Lobbyist decides job of retiring is next Distinguished career: Janet Hoffman has spent 46 years in government, using her power and influence to serve Baltimore and the state. Her effective lobbying earned her the reputation as the 48th senator.

April 02, 1996|By C. FRASER SMITH | C. FRASER SMITH,SUN STAFF

After 33 years as Baltimore's champion in Annapolis, Janet Hoffman will try now to complete one of the only jobs she ever left unfinished: her retirement.

At 77, the city's premier lobbyist before the General Assembly has announced that Monday, the final day of this year's session, will be the last of her 46-year career in government.

Today, the House of Delegates will present her with a special resolution, commemorating her service to the city and the state. It will not be the first time her work has been recognized.

She was once known in the State House as the 48th senator, an institutional honor that gave her a "kick," she acknowledged. In truth, she had real power and influence, more than many of the 47 men and women who earned their title at the polls.

Mrs. Hoffman put her stamp on public affairs as few but governors and the highest- ranking officers of state government have ever done. She is credited with crafting an annual bonanza of state financial aid to Baltimore, including a 1960s realignment of welfare responsibilities that made the city's famous renaissance possible.

Mrs. Hoffman officially left her post as chief lobbyist for the city in 1986. But for the past decade, she has continued to work as a consultant to the city's corps of legislative representatives.

Candid and direct as always, she said she is leaving to make way for new minds more capable of the new thinking government needs.

"A more exploring, fresher approach is needed," she said. "It's hard at my stage to pick up a bill and really read it because I think I know what's in it. That makes me know I should retreat."

She started in 1949 as the first staff member in the state's newly created Fiscal Research Bureau, which analyzes proposed legislation for the House and Senate. Thirteen years later, she left to do the same work for Baltimore.

Eight governors would be elected over the span of her service: William Preston Lane Jr., Theodore R. McKeldin, J. Millard Tawes, Spiro T. Agnew, Marvin Mandel, Harry R. Hughes, William Donald Schaefer and Parris N. Glendening.

But legislators and mayors, not governors, were her bosses.

Financial wizard

A wizard in the complicated domain of government finance, Mrs. Hoffman made the arithmetic work for Baltimore on formulas used to dispense state aid for police protection, for education, for highways and for other programs of all sorts.

Though the Assembly has become a more competitive place in succeeding years, Mrs. Hoffman continued to produce for her city.

Uniquely among public or private lobbyists, she was granted access to the Senate lounge and floor by then-Senate President Steny H. Hoyer, now a member of Congress. Her singular status was owed to the trust built over years of service -- not just to the city but to legislators from all over the state, according to her boss, former mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer.

"I think she's the smartest woman I ever met in the area of finance," he said. "There's a word for it: brilliant. People knew when she told them something, it was right. And she would never try to take advantage of them."

Asked if he gave her authority to act in his absence, Mr. Schaefer said he gave her authority to act in his presence.

"She'd walk over to the House or Senate and I'd accompany her," he said.

Concerns remain

What she sees today when she takes that walk leaves her with many concerns, she said, including:

The overwhelming pace: "The place is too busy, too busy to carefully think through the bills."

Parochialism: "We need people who can be relied upon to balance competing statewide interests. Some people think they benefit their subdivision if they harm another. For that reason, I am less confident of solutions being at hand than I was 10, 15 years ago."

A leadership and thinking gap: "Certain parts of the legislature have hardening of the mental arteries. It's hard to have fresh ideas."

Political timidity: "People are unwilling to have to explain a broader point of view than one that is readily understood by their local press or their constituents. The legislature needs a way to see problems resolved structurally without having to have a divisive fight each time."

Restructed government

In the 1960s, with the help of a rural and conservative Senate president, the late William S. James, Mrs. Hoffman managed a restructuring of responsibilities between the state and local governments that shifted the financing of welfare from the subdivisions to the state.

Then, like many major U.S. cities, Baltimore was paying a quarter to a third of its welfare costs, a burden that clearly was growing and would have exhausted city resources if the state had not stepped in.

Mrs. Hoffman proposed limiting the welfare payments of any state subdivision to a fixed percentage of revenue from its tax rate.

The method of reimbursements for medical aid to the poor also was restructured.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.