Hoffman, Kaplan masters at policy

January 07, 2001|By Barry Rascovar

TWO GIANTS on the state and city scene left us this past week. Each had enormous impact over many decades. And each had an abiding passion for making the world around us -- especially in Baltimore -- better.

Not only were Janet L. Hoffman and Louis L. Kaplan intellectual giants, they cast formidable shadows on this region. Their impact is deeply imbedded in the community.

Public service was their passion, Dr. Kaplan's in education, Ms. Hoffman's in government. Their influence came not only from their immense brainpower, but their keen grasp of the "big picture."

Dr. Kaplan was the consummate religious and secular educator. He was president of Baltimore Hebrew College for an astounding 40 years and head of the Board of Hebrew Education; member of the University of Maryland Board of Regents for 24 years, including six as chairman; interim chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; founder of Beth Am Synagogue and a moving force in creating two other synagogues.

Whenever higher-education officials got in a tight fix, they turned to Louis Kaplan. His six years running the UM regents were turbulent times of student riots and antiwar protests, with National Guardsmen patrolling the College Park campus.

It was the calming influence of Dr. Kaplan who helped lessen tensions. He preached the need to maintain and deepen dialogues among constituencies of that academic community.

When UMBC was in turmoil, state leaders made Dr. Kaplan interim chancellor. His exuberance for learning was infectious.

The university's School of Social Work is in Baltimore instead of College Park because of Dr. Kaplan, who fought to get the school established where it was most needed. He saw the big picture.

Janet Hoffman always had that long-term vision, too. She was a State House institution with influence far exceeding any legislator.

Her forte was Baltimore City, where she shaped the city's strategy in Annapolis for more than 40 years. No lobbyist had as much power to affect legislation.

Part of that influence came from her mastery of the ins and outs of state and local governments, particularly on the financial side. She had an encyclopedic understanding of aid formulas and budgets.

More important was her ability to look beyond the immediate problem. Her solutions contained long-range implications that benefited the city.

In that same vein, she went out of her way to help non-Baltimore legislators with pet bills. She loved teaching legislators to play the State House game.

She knew these legislators would return the favor, that going to bat for non-city lawmakers would reduce the hostility toward Baltimore. That hostility stemmed, ironically, from the monumental successes Ms. Hoffman orchestrated for Baltimore.

Other lobbyists marveled at her skills. Generations of reporters took graduate-level tutorials in government finance from Janet, as she was widely known. No matter what the issue, she could explain every twist and turn in the law, the complex history and why changes had to be made.

She was a mother hen to city legislators, always there to keep things heading in the right direction. She tutored governors, too.

It wasn't unusual for Ms. Hoffman, the city's lobbyist, to be deeply involved in hammering out administration bills, advising governors on the best strategy.

It got to the point in the 1970s when her grasp of the state's complicated education-aid formula so outstripped everyone else's that Ms. Hoffman stepped out of the background to sit on a commission writing a new formula. She provided the intellectual firepower and cunning to craft a politically viable solution.

Ms. Hoffman was the only lobbyist who participated in committee bill-drafting sessions, the only lobbyist allowed into the Senate lounge. Why? Because she was counseling so many senators on so many bills. Because she was such a reliable resource for committee chairmen. Because they trusted her commitment to getting good bills passed.

Both of these individuals were dedicated to doing good deeds.

Dr. Kaplan was a provocative teacher of religion and education. He always maintained that knowledge was useful only if applied to everyday life.

That's how he turned a moribund Baltimore Hebrew College into a thriving center of religious learning. That's how he helped turn the University of Maryland from a "cow college" into a respected public university system.

Janet Hoffman could be provocative, too, in prodding Annapolis politicians to do the right thing for the state's struggling urban center. She turned dry budget numbers and statutory language into productive people programs and jobs-generating buildings.

Both were masters of their realm. They shaped education and government policy in this region for the last half of the 20th century, preparing Baltimore for resurgence in the 21st century.

That's quite an epitaph.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.

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