Commentary: Think I'm tough, you didn't know Edna Goldberg

October 08, 2012

I would be terribly remiss if I didn't use this space to remember a worthy competitor, mentor and friend named Edna Goldberg, who died Oct. 3.

Many of you who read my contribution to the Etc space no doubt remember Edna. (Sorry, but it's difficult of me to think of her as anyone but Edna; Mrs. Goldberg just somehow doesn't ring quite right here.) It would be hard to forget her.

For those of you who don't know her name or never read any of the articles she wrote for The Baltimore Sun, Edna Goldberg was a consummate journalist who spent the better part of three decades keeping those who ran or who aspired to run Harford County government on their collective toes and looking over their shoulders for Edna and her notebook.

Edna was a terror. She had a healthy skepticism about politicians and about those for whom they did their bidding, and during her time as The Sun's Harford County reporter, she unearthed numerous official foibles, screw-ups and outright frauds. The first week I came to Harford County to work at The Aegis in July 1972, she had a front page story in The Sun about a questionable zoning decision favoring a politically connected businessman and a zoning board member who had the real estate listing on the property. This was the kind of story she was already well known for and what made her someone to fear if you were up to any "skulduggery" (a favorite Edna Goldberg word).

In those days there were three newspapers in Harford County - The Aegis, The Record and The Harford Democrat - and all three Baltimore dailies - The Sun, Evening Sun and News-American - had reporters assigned full-time to cover Harford County. It didn't take me long, however, to figure out that Edna Goldberg was the competition. Beat her on a story, and basically that's how your career was going to be measured.

Of course, you had to get up pretty early in the morning, or go to bed late at night, to beat Edna on a story. In the early days, right after the county went to charter government, one of the few advantages I had on her was the county council meetings on Tuesday nights used to drag on well past her 10 p.m. deadline to file her story, and I often found myself looking at the clock and hoping she'd be out in the hall at the telephone when the real action began. Then again, she always had the advantage of writing and publishing a story daily (no Internet in those days) to my once-a-week, so the one absolute thing you could not let happen was to allow her to break a major story on the day our paper came out (Thursday). Nobody wanted to look that foolish, and don't bet for a minute Edna didn't know how to go for the jugular in that respect.

For much of our professional relationship, which I will estimate ran about 16 years or so until Edna retired, we often played a cat-and-mouse game about what we knew and were willing to tell the other about in an effort to try to find out what the other one knew. We also did a good job of trying to ignore when one of us scooped the other on a big story. Mostly in the early days she won those battles, anyway, but on occasion I'd beat her to the punch. A few times, we even complimented each other on our successes.

I know people who have favorite stories about Edna Goldberg, often funny stories. I don't really, because we were competitors first, friends second. That doesn't make well for hilarity and hi jinx in our business. I will say, however, that she set a high bar for aspiring journalists, and many of the younger people like myself, those who passed through Harford County on their career arcs, I'm sure learned quite a bit from her.

A lot of local folks considered Edna an outsider. She came from New York, Queens near the Belmont Park racetrack she once explained to me, but by the time I arrived in Harford County, she already had put down some pretty strong roots here. Her husband, Sol, was a high up civilian official at APG. Her sons, Alan and Mark, went to county schools. She became active in the League of Women Voters following her retirement in the late 1980s. She had a stake in the county and, I believe, wanted to see it governed honestly and smartly, neither of which seemed to be the case then, or now, unfortunately.

After Edna retired, I didn't see her very often, but I knew she was out there watching. If she saw something really out-of-line or off-kilter in the paper, she would phone me to complain about it. If we weren't getting on a story she thought should be covered, I would invariably hear from her. When e-mail came in, I'd occasionally get a line from her and, once in a while, even a compliment. Believe me, that meant a lot.

I think our county is better off today because of someone like Edna Goldberg, who wanted to see things done properly, honestly, ethically and legally. One thing I have learned about competition is that it makes us all better in the long run. I believe I became a better journalist because of knowing and competing against Edna Goldberg. I'm not in Edna's class, because few, if any, could achieve that distinction, but I'm thankful to her for at least showing me what it takes to be the best.

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