'There will be no one like him' Comptroller: A country politician named Louis L. Goldstein came to Annapolis in 1938. He stayed to become an institution.

July 05, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. vTC | William F. Zorzi Jr. vTC,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers C. Fraser Smith and Paula Lavigne contributed to this article.

Louis Lazarus Goldstein was the total package: indefatigable campaigner, skilled financial watchdog and accessible public servant, a 40-year incumbent who was unbeatable by challengers of either party.

It seemed as if he had been comptroller of Maryland's treasury forever. When Goldstein was first elected in 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, J. Millard Tawes was stepping up to be governor and the Baltimore Colts were still a month away from winning their first national championship.

When he died Friday night after a heart attack at his Calvert County home, a chapter of Maryland's history was closed. A career ended that stretched back 60 years, to when he was first elected to the House of Delegates.

Goldstein, a Democrat who was 85, helped usher Maryland government into the modern era, overseeing the computerization of the state's tax and payroll systems. He fought fiercely to protect the state's AAA bond rating, calming jittery New York bond houses during the state's various financial crises. And he earned the trust of a public that he never lost touch with, consistently winning high marks among Marylanders for a job well done.

"He truly represented the state of Maryland," said Robert A. Marano, a tractor dealer who was watching Towson's Fourth of Julyparade yesterday. "He loved what he was doing and it showed."

Said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski: "There was and will be no one like him."

In a singular honor, Goldstein's body will lie in state for public viewing tomorrow in the Rotunda of the Maryland State House. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Prince Frederick.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who ordered state flags to half staff to mark Goldstein's passing, said the comptroller's "personal touch would be missed very, very much."

Glendening, who was to appear with Goldstein in three parades yesterday, said he found it "really weird" not to see the comptroller in the car behind him.

Goldstein was one of three members -- Glendening and Maryland Treasurer Richard N. Dixon being the other two -- of the Board of Public Works, the powerful panel that oversees billions of dollars in expenditures each year.

Fiscal watchdog

It was as a member of that board that he earned his reputation as the state's watchdog, a stickler for detail who often would grill bureaucrats -- at times mercilessly -- over even the smallest of contract awards. It was not unusual for him to impatiently scold them at the crowded meetings, as he looked up over half-lens glasses balanced on the end of his nose.

Of particular interest to him were school roofs -- a subject on which he became an expert because the state replaced so many of them.

"Governors and treasurers have come and gone but he's been the constant," said Dixon, who thought of Goldstein as the board's "General Overseer."

"He ran the show," Dixon said. "He read every page of those big agenda books before the meetings. He must have spent the weekend going through the items."

In fact, before his heart attack Friday evening, Goldstein spent a portion of the day reviewing the agenda for this week's board meeting.

State Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel Republican who as a county executive and legislator has put in time before the Board of Public Works, praised Goldstein for his work there.

"You had someone who was very competent at his job, someone who was very sharp fiscally," Neall said. "He would be cautioning a governor not to make a mistake that some governor, like Governor O'Conor, made 50 years ago," he said. "He just understood state government like no one else."

His knowledge of matters financial was such that six weeks prior to the stock market crash in October 1987, he advised the Maryland Retirement and Pension Board, which he chaired, to move $2 billion in investments out of stocks and into bonds. The board followed his advice, saving the pension system from huge losses and bolstering further his national reputation.

Born in 1913

Goldstein was born March 14, 1913, in Prince Frederick to immigrant merchant Goodman Goldstein and his wife, Belle.

He was first elected to public office in 1938, the year Herbert R. O'Conor became Maryland's governor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.

He served one four-year term in the House of Delegates before entering the Marine Corps during World War II. In 1946, a month after returning stateside, he was elected to the Maryland Senate, where he spent 12 years, including four years as president.

In 1958, he ran for comptroller in what would be the first of 10 terms. Though his state service was uninterrupted, he did lose one election -- to Joseph D. Tydings in the 1964 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Successful in business

His distinctive Southern drawl and country-boy manner belied just how shrewd he was. He was a successful businessman as a real estate investor, tree farmer and former Calvert County newspaper publisher.

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