Zoe Piendak, 59, chief of Mayor Burns' staff and state administrator

April 15, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Zoe Piendak, who was chief of staff for Baltimore Mayor Clarence Du Burns and had a long career as a city, county and state government administrator, died Saturday of complications from stomach cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Charles Village resident was 59.

Born Zoe Daidakis in the city and raised in the Patterson Park and Alameda areas, she was a 1960 graduate of Western High School. She attended the University of Maryland, College Park and later earned her undergraduate degree in history from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's in economics from the University of Baltimore.

She was recruited to work in William Donald Schaefer's first mayoral campaign in 1971. A year later, she became an assistant director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, where she worked on the City Fair in its early years and met her husband of 27 years, George Piendak, a former city budget director who survives her.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Piendak began working in city government -- in the Department of Transit and Traffic and in planning before a long tenure in the Department of Public Works as chief of administrative services. She developed a reputation as an official who would cut through red tape and get a task done.

"The word at City Hall was `call Zoe.' The only thing that ever disappointed her was that there weren't 30 hours in a day. She was a caring person who would do anything for you," said Christopher C. Hartman, a public relations executive and former executive director at CPHA. "She would take a complex problem and dissect it into parts. At the same time, she could look over a group of people and find the right ones to do the right parts. The problem, whatever it was, would be solved and solved well."

"My job is to make sure what the mayor wants is carried out," she told The Evening Sun in 1987 after Mr. Burns -- who became Baltimore's first African-American mayor with the election of Mr. Schaefer as governor -- named her his chief of staff. The job was short-lived, however, as Mr. Burns was defeated by Kurt L. Schmoke in the municipal elections that year. Mr. Burns died in January.

A 1987 profile in The Sun said of Mrs. Piendak: "She has an air of frankly enjoying her own competence that manages to be neither arrogant nor egotistical. After many of her efficiently framed answers, she breaks into a candid grin, a smile that shakes the impression of bureaucratic self-importance and seems to ask whether we're taking her just a bit too seriously."

"She was a remarkable person, energetic and definitive," said District Judge Timothy D. Murphy, a friend and former City Council member. "She had a command of whatever issues she was dealing with. She didn't sugarcoat an answer."

Mrs. Piendak was a vice president for administration and finance at the University of Baltimore from 1988 until 1992, when she became deputy director for finance and administration at the Baltimore Museum of Art and helped get a new wing constructed. In 1995, she joined Harford County government, working first with the County Council and then in public works. Her last job was senior business ombudsman for the Governor's Office of Business Advocacy in the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

"She brought 30 years' experience with her. She gave developers and mayors the sense that government was really there to help," said Jim McLean, executive director of the business advocacy agency. "Because she knew so many people in the political game, she'd pick up the phone -- and people would identify with her. She was effective. She could open all the doors."

Most recently she worked on redevelopment of the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Cecil County, relocation and expansion of the Phillips seafood plant in Locust Point, and the Circle C oyster farm in St. Mary's County. She also sought to restore the skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark.

For the past decade, she had been an appointed member of the Maryland State Lottery Commission, and at her death was its vice chairman.

A sports fan, she followed college basketball.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Preston Street and Maryland Avenue, where she was a member.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Emily Piendak of Newton, Mass.; a brother, Arthur Daidakis of Timonium; and a sister, Peggy Daidakis Werner of Towson.

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