'There will be no one like him'

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.

Over his career, primarily in the 1950s and early 1960s, Goldstein bought thousands of acres of land in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. He advised friends and acquaintances to do the same, "because the Good Lord isn't making any more of it."

Some of those deals were questioned, particularly when he sold some of the land at a high profit, but he protested that he had done nothing wrong.

Goldstein traded on his charm and affable ways, crisscrossing the state and seeming to turn up at every rally, fund-raiser or Rotary meeting to which he was invited.

He put as many as 100,000 miles a year on his state car, which was driven by Maryland State Police bodyguards.

"He was very much a retail, press-the-flesh politician," said Marvin A. Bond, Goldstein's longtime assistant and friend. "He never had the benefit of a machine or vast organization, and he believed that Maryland was a small enough state that people still expected to see you."

Some of Goldstein's detractors complained privately that he was an unabashed publicity seeker with a penchant for taking the politically easy vote.

If true, voters across the state never seemed to notice; they returned him to office time and again by impressive margins. He consistently outscored other politicians in polls that measured name recognition and voter satisfaction -- an unusual occurrence for a state's tax collector.

Goldstein had a remarkable memory, for figures as well as faces.

Glendening recalled the first time he met Goldstein -- at a Prince George's County crab feast -- just after coming to Maryland from Florida in 1967. There "must have been 600 or 700 people there," the governor said, and at the time, Glendening was a mere political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"I saw him about a year later, and he said to me, 'Hi professor, how are you?' "

Shocked, Glendening asked Goldstein if he remembered him, to which the comptroller responded, "Sure I do, Parris."

'The state fossil'

Goldstein had been around for so long that in introducing him, other politicians could not resist making some crack about his being in Maryland when the colony was founded. Recently, he was referred to affectionately in an introduction as "the state fossil."

"Louis had become an institution a sort of goodwill ambassador," Neall said. "He had gone beyond the sort of typical pol looking to renew his lease."

At the Towson parade yesterday, J. Kevin Wight, 38, said he did not remember much about Goldstein's politics, but he did remember his personality.

"He was always going up to people, waving," Wight said. "He always had a smile on his face."

'God bless you all'

Goldstein's name became synonymous with his trademark phrase, "God bless you all real good." The expression was emblazoned on one side of gold-painted coins he handed out everywhere he went. The other side read simply "Louis L. Goldstein, State Comptroller, Maryland."

After an event, he followed up quickly with thank-you notes, often dictating them to his secretary over the car phone as he left.

Goldstein was so popular that Democratic candidates had all but stopped running against him, and state Republicans put up only token opposition.

The GOP future brightened for a short time after the 1994 election, when Goldstein announced that he would not seek an 11th term. But that changed after Goldstein's wife of 48 years, Hazel, died in April 1996. With only state business to turn to, he announced in June of that year that he would run again. His decision sent virtually everyone who had considered a bid out of the race.

On Tuesday, Goldstein will be buried next to his wife at the Trinity churchyard cemetery.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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