His legacy: the Gold(stein) Standard

July 08, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

THEY BURIED Louie Goldstein yesterday, and with him ended an era.

He was the last state officeholder who served both before and after World War II. But then he also spanned the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. He was always part of the Annapolis scene.

Louis L. Goldstein dedicated himself to public service. It was his life, and his love. No one had more affection for Maryland. Never did anyone express his devotion so often in so many parts of the state.

Forty years as state comptroller. Sixty years in public service. It was an incredible record that led folks to believe Louie Goldstein would be around forever.

But the unthinkable has happened. An institution has vanished from the scene.

You'd have to be eligible for full Social Security benefits to remember a time when you went into the voting booth and did not see Louis Goldstein's name on the ballot for Maryland comptroller.

If you live in Calvert County, you'd have to be 85 to have voted in a state election when Mr. Goldstein's name wasn't on your ballot (except for the four years he was in the Marines).

A trusted figure

He was part of our lives. His presence assured us everything was right with the world, that our tax dollars were in good hands, that we could trust our elected leaders.

He served as an anchor for Democrats running for state office. Gov. Parris N. Glendening counted on the Goldstein name this year to help his own chances of winning. Even at the age of 85, Mr. Goldstein was deemed so unbeatable that, before his death, no Democrat had filed against him.

Now a mad scramble is on to succeed him. It may have appeared unseemly for candidates to file even as the comptroller's casket lay in the State House. The timing of his death, though, made such a jarring juxtaposition inevitable. Louis would have understood, and chuckled.

He was, after all, the consummate campaigner, an exemplar of the politics of optimism. He was every bit as much the "Happy Warrior" as another irrepressible Democrat, Hubert Humphrey.

Other politicians came away amazed by his inexhaustible enthusiasm -- in private as well as in public. Always upbeat. Delivering hilarious lectures about raising tomatoes or the necessity of changing shoes to keep refreshed.

As a political realist, he would relish the race to succeed him. Even in death, he casts a huge shadow. Everything his successor does will be judged against the Gold(stein) Standard.

Depending on the results in November, Mr. Goldstein's passing may also signal the end of another era -- Democratic control of state government.

Without him on the Democratic ticket, the party may lose the governorship, letting a Republican draw new districts for the state legislature and Congress. That could prove the turning point for Maryland's outnumbered GOP.

There were two sides to Mr. Goldstein. Outside his office, he was a smiling and happy celebrity, whose joy never waned while mingling with citizens.

Bureaucrats and elected leaders saw the other side: a hard-nosed conservative who acted as fiscal watchdog on the powerful Board of Public Works.

Mr. Goldstein was never a rubber stamp. He often opposed governors on proposals he felt frivolous or ill-conceived.

The bane of bureaucrats

He terrorized bureaucrats at board meetings. It helped that he practically memorized voluminous back-up material and visited project sites. You couldn't buffalo Mr. Goldstein.

He had the good sense to promote capable professionals in the comptroller's office and let them run the show. Yet he was a stickler for modernizing tax collections.

It's astonishing that no one ever blamed Louie Goldstein for the taxes he or she owed. His popularity soared even as he cheerfully asked folks to send in their tax dollars early ("Don't delay, file today") so they could get quick refunds.

It was a superb gimmick. People felt better about their government after hearing a Goldstein pep talk or funny story.

They adored his fast-talking spiel, with that thick Southern Maryland accent. They trusted him with their money. And they loved him for his stability.

Marylanders knew that as long as Louie Goldstein was around, everything would work out all right in Annapolis.

That certainty has now been removed. With 19 candidates filing for comptroller, the post-Goldstein era begins with state politics in flux.

Life without Louie won't be easy.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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