Perspective: Dawn Flythe Moore also made history and now faces own set of challenges

New first lady brings Annapolis experience, advocacy background

Published on: January 25, 2023 6:00 AM EST|Updated on: January 25, 2023 1:25 PM EST

Dawn Moore listens to speakers during her husband, Wes Moore’s inauguration as the First African-American governor for the State of Maryland, at the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, MD, Wednesday, January 18, 2023.
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Confident and capable, Dawn Flythe Moore delivered on-message stump speeches, gave pitch-perfect introductory remarks, and deftly participated in endless meet-and-greets as a campaign surrogate for her husband, now Gov. Wes Moore.

These personal skills, plus her professional resume, suggest she will be an asset to the Wes Moore administration. As a former staffer for the Maryland secretary of state and a senior advisor for government affairs for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, among other roles, she understands Annapolis from the inside.

She has an established record of volunteering and philanthropic work with such organizations as the Maryland Food Bank, the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Baltimore School for the Arts. Those who have worked with Ms. Moore describe her as upbeat, focused but not rigid, with sharp political instincts and an enthusiastic supporter of her husband’s ambitions from the beginning.

Ms. Moore is the first Black woman to serve as first lady of Maryland. The role of first lady brings a set of challenges as well as contradictions. The position is highly visible, but most daily responsibilities receive little attention from the media or the public. And while the first spouse can bolster or influence the governor’s policy agenda, history and gendered expectations undoubtedly bind the scope of the job.

Some Maryland first ladies pursued independent careers during their husbands’ time in office. Katie Curran O’Malley, an attorney, continued to preside as a Baltimore District Court judge while Martin O’Malley served as governor. Before her, Kendel Ehrlich, also an attorney, briefly suspended her legal work — and gave birth to the family’s second child — while living in Government House.

Frances Hughes Glendening, the second wife of Parris N. Glendening, was an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission and stepped aside as the state’s official hostess when she and her husband divorced while in office in 2001.

Even Maryland’s last bachelor governor, William Donald Schaefer, recognized the value of having a companion to attend dinners and official events and manage the governor’s mansion. He brought with him to Annapolis lifelong friend Hilda Mae Snoops, who became the unofficial first lady.

Dawn Moore succeeds Yumi Hogan, the first Asian American and immigrant to serve in the role, who represented Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration and the state with grace and dignity.

The public platform, one the introverted artist was initially uneasy about, allowed Ms. Hogan to share a life story that exemplifies our country’s ideals. The former Yumi Kim grew up on a chicken farm in South Korea, immigrated to the United States, raised three daughters as a single mother, worked long hours to support their dreams, volunteered at her church, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree and taught at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her journey is truly remarkable.

Gov. Hogan even referred to his wife as his “secret weapon” on the campaign trail for her ability to quietly build his support among Asian American voters. But with some notable exceptions — helping her husband secure COVID-19 test kits from South Korea-based LabGeonomics and speaking publicly against anti-Asian attacks and bias — she stayed out of the political fray. She primarily focused on advocating for the arts, supporting families affected by cancer, helping with the restorations of Government House and hosting events.

Ms. Hogan also earned a reputation among State House staffers for being exceptionally kind. Even those in Annapolis who intensely disliked the governor were hard-pressed to muster much criticism about his wife.

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We don’t know much about Ms. Moore’s plans for her tenure yet. Like Ms. Hogan, she’s a racial barrier breaker fiercely committed to her family. Like Ms. Ehrlich and Ms. O’Malley, she has the enormous task of raising her young children in a strange, public bubble. Even so, it’s unlikely that Ms. Moore will approach the job, in terms of issues or execution of duties, in the same way as these women. And that’s a good thing.

To be sure, the policies executed by the Moore administration will ultimately define his legacy, but the ceremonial, softer side of government affairs will matter, too. The public recognition of accomplishments, milestones and culture lifts up and gives deserved attention to the people our elected leaders serve.

A first spouse who can help execute these duties, among their other responsibilities, can do much good. And the success of the Moore-Miller People’s Ball, which Ms. Moore co-chaired, is evidence that first lady Dawn Moore is up to the task.

Mileah Kromer is director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics and associate professor of political science at Goucher College.