Democrats Applaud Comptroller Choice
and Manuel Perez-Rivas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 7, 1998; Page A05
Michael D. Barnes once was a young politician on the fast track to the top. As a congressman from Maryland in the mid-1980s, he appeared on TV talk shows and got newspaper headlines for his role leading the Democratic attack on the nation's Central American policy on Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Then, in 1986, he lost an election, and in an instant, it seemed, he dropped largely from public view.
Yesterday, Barnes, 54, reemerged from self-imposed political exile when he accepted from Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) the unenviable task of replacing the endearing state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein (D), who died Friday night.
Like Goldstein, Barnes is a veteran of the Marine Corps, but in other respects, the two men couldn't be more different. The gregarious Goldstein reveled in state doings and was so ubiquitous at statewide events he earned the nickname "Mr. Maryland."
The more buttoned-down Barnes found his niche in foreign relations; as a top Washington adviser to then-exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994 he was referred to as Aristide's "de facto foreign minister" before the Haitian leader was restored to power.
But as low-key as he was on the state stage in recent years, Barnes was no stranger to Glendening. He served as chairman of the governor's reelection campaign, a role Republican leaders said would compromise his independence as comptroller.
Yesterday, however, Democrats hailed Barnes as a smart, honest and experienced figure who is, in ways, well-suited to follow in the popular Goldstein's footsteps and who will broaden Montgomery County's voice in Annapolis. A Glendening loyalist, he also will help the governor maintain control of the three-member Board of Public Works, which awards state contracts. The governor and state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon hold the other two votes.
U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who defeated Barnes in the 1986 Democratic primary for the seat she now holds, said she was "delighted" with Barnes's appointment. "He has integrity and has been committed to the state of Maryland for many years," she said in a statement.
"Mike is a very bright, very honest, very conscientious individual, and I think he will make an excellent comptroller," said U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who served in the House with Barnes for five years.
"I think he will continue the record of integrity and high performance that was Louis Goldstein's hallmark," he said. "I think it was an excellent choice. . . . I think Mike will prove to be not only an excellent comptroller and an excellent candidate, but I would expect him to be elected in November and serve a full four-year term."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who had declined an offer to take the comptroller's position, called Barnes "a very good selection."
"He's someone with a lot of experience. He's also a good politician," Duncan said. "And in many ways, he's gone beyond that and become a statesman for Montgomery County."
After his defeat by Mikulski, Barnes, who is a partner in the prestigious Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson, set out to establish a career representing Caribbean interests, eventually becoming a U.S. adviser to Aristide.
Barnes had become interested and versed in the region and its politics during his years in Congress, where he served as chairman of the House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs. At the time he drew the national spotlight for challenging the Reagan administration's policies on Central America.
Barnes attended the University of North Carolina, served in the Marine Corps from 1967 to 1969 and received his law degree from the George Washington University Law center in 1972. He is married and has two children.
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