Longtime Md. comptroller Goldstein is dead at age 85 Tireless campaigner was state's top fiscal officer for 39 years

Had just filed to run again

Head tax collector tough, hard-working, but unfailingly cheery

July 04, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS Sun staff writers Sandy Banisky, C. Fraser Smith, Craig Timberg, Neil Thompson, Laura Lippman and Stephen Henderson contributed to this article.

Louis L. Goldstein, the jovial political institution who began campaigning last week for an 11th term as Maryland comptroller with his cheery trademark, "God bless y'all real good," collapsed at his home in Prince Frederick, Calvert County, last night and died.

Mr. Goldstein, who was first elected to political office in 1938 and served in statewide office longer than anyone else in Maryland history, was 85 years old.

Earlier in the evening yesterday, Mr. Goldstein and members of his family had observed an Independence Day tradition, reading from the Declaration of Independence, according to Marvin Bond, the comptroller's longtime assistant.

In more than 39 years as the state's top fiscal officer, Mr. Goldstein was respected by his peers across the country as a tough, serious guardian of Maryland's finances -- as well as a boyishly exuberant and beloved campaigner.

"The most amazing man that I've ever worked with," said former Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "There was never a campaigner like Louie Goldstein.

"I just can't imagine the state without him."

Said Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, "He exemplified the best public service and made us all proud to be Marylanders."

Mr. Goldstein had been swimming alone in his pool last night, got out and had a heart attack, according to his personal physician, Dr. John Weigel.

Officials said he collapsed by the pool and hit his head on the ground. He was found unconscious minutes later by his daughter, Louisa Goldstein, who called 911.

Mr. Goldstein was rushed to Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, where he was pronounced dead at 8: 40 p.m., officials said. Doctors said he never regained consciousness.

Dr. Patricia Gillen, who works in the hospital's emergecy room, said Mr. Goldstein was in "good physical shape" but did suffer from hardening of the arteries.

"Louis is my candidate for Marylander of the century," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. "He was a farmer, a Lions Club member, a charter member of the local volunteer fire company, a lawyer, newspaper publisher and philanthropist.

"There never will be anyone like him again."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said Mr. Goldstein had told him last week that he wanted to be the comptroller to lead Maryland into the next century.

And although Mr. Goldstein did not live to see that, "we are going into the next century a lot stronger because Louie Goldstein was with us [in state government] for more than 50 years," Mr. Glendening said.

Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who first met Mr. Goldstein in 1955, said, "I feel like I've known him my entire life. I guess most people feel that way."

Mr. Hughes said Mr. Goldstein thrived on politics and campaigning, once shaking every hand in a Denton department store -- including a mannequin's.

"I think he really felt that if he didn't run again, he'd just shrivel up and die," Mr. Hughes said.

In the middle of this term, Mr. Goldstein had said he would not run for re-election.

But his wife, Hazel, the woman he said was his best friend and adviser, died in April 1996, leaving him with "a lot of time I wouldn't have normally."

Last week, full of apparent good health and enthusiasm, he filed again for election -- smiling, offering blessings all around and handing out the gold-colored coins he always carried to give as souvenirs.

He made hundreds of public appearances every year, a sunny presence who talked fast in a voice thick with the accent of Southern Maryland.

Popular tax collector

Despite his almost silly exuberance, Mr. Goldstein's colleagues took him very seriously as he ran the state office that collects taxes and pays the state's bills.

As Maryland's chief financial officer, Mr. Goldstein remained popular despite being the state's tax man.

"He prided himself on collecting taxes and making the citizens who paid those taxes like him," Mr. Schaefer said.

Mr. Goldstein pushed the state government to computerize tax records -- and although he came from an era in which records were kept on paper he became conversant in computers, recognizing much earlier than many the so-called Year 2000 problem that has required massive reconfiguring of computer systems.

Maryland's will be ready a year early, Mr. Bond said.

And he jealously guarded the state's triple-A bond rating.

"He ran one of the best offices," Mr. Schaefer said. "He prided himself on getting the money [tax refunds] back to the taxpayers immediately."

Despite his buoyant public face, Mr. Goldstein "had a tough side," Mr. Schaefer said.

"Believe me, if he didn't believe what you were saying or if he was against what you wanted, he could be rough."

Not one to hold a grudge

But "he would never leave the Board of Public Works," the state financing panel on which the governor, treasurer and comptroller sit, "mad or in a bad mood," no matter how tough the fight, Mr. Schaefer said.

"The next day, it was as if nothing had happened. He never held a grudge."

And Mr. Goldstein worked hard.

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