Land of the muldoons, home of the b'hoys

The Baltimore Sun

If the term "b'hoys" and "muldoons" resonates with you, you're showing your age.

Last week, The Sun used the word "muldoon," in a story about Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt.

Wyatt had been Gov. Marvin Mandel's legislative lobbyist, appointments secretary and keeper of the "Green Bag," from which hundreds of patronage jobs were dispensed during the 1970s.

His name rocketed back into the news after former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. mentioned the former dapper Annapolis insider in boozy revelations to an FBI informant in an upscale restaurant.

Those weird, archaic-sounding words, "b'hoys and muldoons," continue to arouse interest.

Simply stated, a b'hoy is a ward heeler, or low-level political boss, while a muldoon is a political foot soldier of limited intellectual curiosity attached to a political machine.

"There are a few muldoons and b'hoys around, but I think that era has largely passed. However, the wonderful stories of their activities are still around," said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Democrat who is now chairman of the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

He attributes the end of the b'hoys and muldoons era to the demise of the old-time political clubs and bosses who exerted an iron grip over Baltimore politics.

"There are virtually no political clubhouses any more. They were once in South Baltimore, Northeast Baltimore, East Baltimore and Northwest Baltimore," Lapides said. "And there were bosses like Jack Pollack and Irv Kovens."

William F. Zorzi Jr., former Sun political reporter who wrote plenty about b'hoys and muldoons during his career, defined b'hoys as "originally the Irish ward heelers of the Eastern cities; later, and more generically, 'political henchmen.' More recently, it has referred to leaders of political organizations, factions and even clubhouses who command the muldoons."

In a 1995 article in The Sun, he described a muldoon as "a loyal foot soldier in a political machine with limited intellectual capabilities. Originally defined as 'a straight organization man who will vote right and stay hitched.' Also used to describe the now-shrinking army of Election Day poll workers."

"It was a system with its own pecking order, that counted on the 'b'hoys,' the boss' trustiest followers, to deploy the 'muldoons,' the foot soldiers, who worked the polls, their pockets stuffed with walk-around money, corralling the masses, handing out ballots and voting. Sometimes early and often," Zorzi wrote.

And it appears that through the years, The Sun has played no small role in promoting b'hoys and muldoons as a way to heap ridicule on politicians.

Sun political cartoonist Richard Q. "Moco" Yardley began rendering local politicians, b'hoys and muldoons, in pen and ink during the late 1930s. He pictured them as well-fed, cigar-puffing, rotund gents, dressed in vested suits highlighted with gold watch chains and sparkling diamond stickpins poking from their neckties. Their hat of choice was always the derby.

The Sun's Charles G. Whiteford, a veteran and astute observer of many legislative sessions in Annapolis, loved to invoke the b'hoys and muldoons. According to Zorzi, he is credited with keeping them alive at a time when editors didn't share his enthusiasm for the terms.

Some years later, after the b'hoys and muldoons fell into disuse, a 1981 editorial in The Evening Sun credited Anthony Barbieri Jr., who had been The Sun's State House reporter, "as the man responsible for popularizing the word 'muldoon' in reference to Marvin Mandel's political entourage."

Barbieri, who later became a foreign correspondent and managing editor of The Sun, explained in the editorial that it was Whiteford who introduced him to the term.

"Muldoon in my usage means machine hack in legislature or City Council who sits there and keeps his mouth shut, voting as he is told by various Pollacks, Hoffberts, Adams, Kovens, Currans, or whoever it is to whom he owes his place on the ticket. Thus I recall one specific usage on land use bills: 'The vote was close until Marvin Mandel called the muldoons upstairs for a chat.'"

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