For months behind the scenes, rival campaigns and political operatives have questioned the biography of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore.
Moore, one of 11 Democrats seeking the nomination, has prominently promoted his Charm City ties for years, such as attending the Johns Hopkins University and writing a book about an incarcerated Baltimore man who shares his name.
Moore has thrust those whispers into public conversation by alleging that a competing campaign has violated Maryland campaign finance rules by anonymously circulating documents about his background.
A lawyer for Moore’s campaign sent a four-page complaint and 38 pages of attached evidence to the Maryland State Board of Elections and the Office of the State Prosecutor on Tuesday, according to a Moore spokesman.
The complaint alleges that the campaign of Democratic candidate John King used an anonymous email account and a now-deleted Twitter account to circulate documents that scrutinize Moore’s history. Moore’s team says that amounts to official campaign actions and should be labeled as such.
In a statement, the campaign for King and running mate Michelle Siri said their team is not behind the document cited by Moore.
“The King-Siri campaign did not authorize the dissemination of the document at the center of this complaint by the Moore campaign, nor does the King-Siri campaign know who is behind it,” the statement read.
It continued: “The items alleged in the documents do raise serious questions about many statements Moore has made and we hope, Mr. Moore will address these and Marylanders will take a serious look at and properly vet all the candidates in this race, as it is critical that Democrats have a candidate who can win in November.”
What the document alleges
At the center of the complaint is a 12-page document titled “Wes Moore Research Update: Fraudulent Story and Falsified Book.” The document picks apart Moore’s life story, relying on voter registration, motor vehicle and property records in an attempt to upend the narrative that Moore is a Baltimorean.
Moore, 43, lives in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood but was not born or raised in the Baltimore area. He spent most of his childhood in the Bronx. While Moore was attending boarding school at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, his mother moved to Pasadena in Anne Arundel County. Moore used that house as his official address for a time, according to public records.
Moore rose to prominence in 2010 with the publication of his first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” which contrasts the candidate’s life with that of a similarly named man from Baltimore serving a life sentence for participating in a jewelry store robbery in which an off-duty police officer was shot dead in 2000.
Wesley John Moore, who is three years older than the author/candidate, was raised in various Baltimore City and Baltimore County neighborhoods, according to “The Other Wes Moore.” Wes Moore the candidate was a student studying abroad in South Africa when his mother told him about the similarly-named man involved in the crime, he writes in his book.
The document at the center of the Moore campaign’s complaint argues that Moore has allowed untrue statements about his backstory to stand uncorrected, allowing him to benefit from being associated with Baltimore.
Moore’s campaign launched a website on Tuesday to burnish his credentials as aBaltimorean. The website acknowledges that some copies of “The Other Wes Moore” have a factually incorrect back cover that reads: “Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other.”
The website also claims Moore has Baltimore bona fides including playing basketball at Druid Hill Park and hanging out at the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center in Upton, as he recounted in another one of his books, “5 Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City.”
Moore declined to comment through his campaign team, but said in a statement: “I did not go into this naively. I understand politics can be toxic. But to attack my childhood, my connection with my home — to claim my mother, an immigrant who watched her husband die, did not really struggle — is so callous and repulsive. And to do it illegally and anonymously is not something we are going to tolerate.”
Why is this happening
By lodging the complaint, Moore is making the questions about his background public on his own terms — rather than having them first aired to a broader audience by a rival campaign or the news media.
As one of the front-runners in the crowded field, it’s not surprising that he’s the subject of scrutiny. He raised the most money last year and just won the coveted endorsement of the state teachers union. The existence of the dossier and anonymous accounts signals how much others worry that Moore is a serious contender.
And in a field heavy with candidates from the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Moore has positioned himself as a candidate for Baltimore — an especially coveted voter bloc this election after two terms of Baltimore-bashing by outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Why it matters
None of the candidates at the top of the gubernatorial tickets have ever been elected to office in Baltimore. That leaves no candidate with a head start in winning over a major bloc of Democratic primary voters.
Moore’s Democratic rivals have tiptoed around the issue of his Baltimore bona fides.
Laura Neuman, who was born and raised in Baltimore in a troubled family, has leaned in heavily on her city upbringing. During debates on the environment and climate change last month, she emphasized how growing up amid concrete and asphalt she missed out on experiences in nature. (Neuman later served as county executive in Anne Arundel County and currently lives in Baltimore County.)
Other Democratic candidates made their Maryland roots clear as they tried to win over the teachers union over the weekend.
Jon Baron, who has worked in public policy, opened his speech to the teachers: “I’m a longtime Maryland resident, like many of you. I’ve lived in Montgomery County for 28 years, spent most of my childhood here, I actually went to the same public schools that my kids went to.”
Doug Gansler, a former state attorney general and Montgomery County prosecutor, was more direct: “I’m a candidate that’s actually from Maryland.”
Now that Moore has made the issue public, the door is open for candidates to directly attack him. Or it could undercut the efforts of rival campaigns.
At the moment, it’s not clear when Moore, King and most of the other candidates will next be on stage together.
What happens next
Moore’s team sent their complaint to two entities: the Maryland State Board of Elections, which can issue civil fines for campaign violations, and the Office of the State Prosecutor, which handles cases of criminal wrongdoing by campaign officials.
Jared DeMarinis, chief of campaigns and candidacy for the Maryland State Board of Elections, confirmed that he received the complaint on Tuesday. But he’s precluded from discussing any investigations.
Charlton Howard, the state prosecutor, declined to comment, citing his office’s policy not to discuss or even confirm or deny the existence of a complaint or investigation. Any investigation would take place outside of public view, with the results only known if there’s a fine or criminal charges.