There was only one "Soft Shoes." That was Harry J. McGuirk's nickname in the State House and at City Hall, the two focal points of political power that he frequented -- and frequently influenced -- during his 32 years in government. He was the consummate political insider and deal-maker, whose modus +V operandi was so smooth yet complex that he resembled Fred Astaire on the dance floor. South Baltimore's own "Soft Shoes."
No Maryland politician was more respected for his mastery of the legislative system and the uses of power than Mr. McGuirk, who died yesterday at age 68. He had not been a legislator for 10 years yet everyone still called him "senator" in his job as executive assistant to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He knew how to pull strings and quietly achieve his goals without leaving telltale signs of involvement. He played his own version of three-dimensional political chess so skillfully that few could ever figure out all his plans and stratagems.
Mr. McGuirk reigned supreme in South Baltimore. For decades he stood as the undisputed power behind the Stonewall Democratic Club that ruled the 6th District. Though never a member of the City Council, Mr. McGuirk determined how the 6th District delegation would vote with a nod of his head from the sidelines. No wonder the delegation became known as "the Silent Sixth."