God bless y'all real good He's been Maryland's comptroller for four decades, but if you think Louis L. Goldstein is ready to kick off his shoes and relax, forget it.

April 06, 1997|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Maryland comptroller Louis L. Goldstein has spent a lot of time thinking about his feet. They're big feet, size 12s. They require a variety of shoes - waders, two pairs of Timberland hiking boots, a crepe-soled Dexter for a typical working day, a harder, slicker sole for dancing, which he still loves. Did he mention that he used to compete in dance contests down at Chesapeake Beach, when he was a young man giving away cigarettes for the Philip Morris company? He'd win $10 in the foxtrot contest and split it with his partner. Now that was one of the best jobs he ever had.

Where was he? Oh yes, his feet.

Feet are important, because Goldstein is still an old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigner. You see what's he saying? A walking history of the 20th century, if you will. At 84, he may not be as old as all the jokes make him out to be - for the record, he was not at St. Clement's Island when the Ark and the Dove arrived from England on March 25, 1633 - but he's been around longer than anyone else in state government. Six wonderful decades: the first two in the General Assembly, the last four in the job that's become his life, comptroller.

And he literally did it all step by step. Never advertised on TV, just counted on his hard-working feet to carry him into every nook and cranny of this beautiful, beautiful state.

You gotta love people to be a good campaigner, and, man, does he love people. Likes to shake hands with the nice men, meet the pretty ladies, hand out gold coins to the little children. "God bless y'all real good with happiness and success," he tells each one. What could be better?

You gotta be in shape to campaign like that. Your feet definitely have to be in shape. Know how he does it? Goes to Ocean City, wades into the surf up to his knees and just starts walking. Two miles, up and back, three times a day.

Next year, the good Lord willing, he plans to be campaigning again - "God bless y'all etc., etc.," shaking hands, changing his shoes twice a day, socks three times a day. Yes, the comptroller has spent a lot of time thinking about his feet.

Which is appropriate, for it is privately said these days that the only way Louis L. Goldstein is ever going to leave that treasury building named for Louis L. Goldstein is - please pardon the expression - feet first.

For many of us, there has never been another comptroller. Louis L. Goldstein is the comptroller, the comptroller's office is Louis L. Goldstein. That's the way it's been for 38 years now, and that's the way it's going to be as long as he wants the job. Anyone who doubts this need look only to the 1994 Democratic primary, when Rockville lawyer James B. Moorhead ran against Goldstein.

Moorhead raised twice as much money as Goldstein. He advertised on television and radio, playing a little jingle. Louis, Louis, you gotta go now. In the end, Goldstein out-polled him almost 2-to-1. It's hard to know what Moorhead learned from this experience - he refused to talk about it - but other would-be comptrollers got the message: As long as Goldstein wants the job, it's his.

For all Goldstein's visibility and invincibility, most people know him only as the twanging voice that comes on the radio this time of year, sharing tax tips. Yet collecting taxes - and sending out those speedy refunds - is only a part of the comptroller's job. The comptroller heads the pension board, co-signs the checks for the entire state payroll, oversees all state computer systems. Most important of all, he sits with the governor and treasurer on the Board of Public Works, which approves every lease, every purchase, every loan, every school construction project.

"Forget 'God bless y'all real good.' Forget Louis campaigning all over the state. He is one of three votes on the Board of Public Works," says former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, the only man, living or dead, to ever beat Goldstein in an election, the 1964 Democratic Senate primary.

One vote out of three, and he has an edge because of his long tenure and incredible memory, aided by a lifelong habit of copious note-taking. He is said to influence the others when necessary. He also can grandstand at times, voting against something unpopular that he knows the governor and treasurer feel honor-bound to support.

Well, that's politics, Tydings says, but it doesn't detract from the comptroller's accomplishments: "Louis Goldstein has not been appreciated by the people of Maryland for what he's really done."

OK, point taken. We will talk about the Board of Public Works, where Goldstein has waged his fight against flat roofs, &r demonstrated his vast knowledge of Maryland property values and terrorized mid-level bureaucrats. But first, some campaign stories.

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