Photo by Pamela Wood/The Baltimore Banner -- Maryland candidate for governor Wes Moore speaks at a campaign event in Bowie on April 29, 2022.

Wes Moore has built up a diverse resume over his career, serving as a military veteran, an investment banker, a bestselling author, an entrepreneur and the chief of a large charity.

All of those stops along the way have prepared him, he says, for what he hopes is his next title: governor of Maryland.

Amid a crowded field of candidates — there are 10 Democrats on the ballot — Moore has drawn the most attention. He’s both a lightning rod for criticism and a beacon for hope for change in Maryland.

Moore has an air of celebrity about him, and has honed his public persona and speaking style over years of appearing on talk shows and the lecture circuit to promote his books, including the bestseller, “The Other Wes Moore.” As he speaks on the campaign trail, he often has a grin spreading across his face, drawing in the listener and making statements he’s repeated countless times before feel one-of-a-kind.

Moore has brought drama to his campaign events. At a rally in East Baltimore this spring, there was a drum line and pompom dancers. After Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced her endorsement of Moore, they snapped selfies and danced onstage with other supporters to the ‘70s disco classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

And one of the most famous people in America, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, recently headlined an online fundraiser for Moore.

Some are drawn to Moore for his compelling backstory, detailed in his memoir. When Moore was 3, his father died suddenly from an infection and his mother moved the family from Takoma Park to the Bronx to be with her parents. When Moore got into youthful trouble, his mother took him out of a conventional private school and shipped him off to a military boarding academy. It was there, Moore said, that he learned discipline and how to tap his potential.

Moore went on to Johns Hopkins University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He did a tour in Afghanistan with the Army and built a career in investment banking before writing his first book and shifting his work toward solving challenging social problems — education and poverty — first through a for-profit company he founded and later at the Robin Hood Foundation.

Moore’s experience, background and vision make for an inspirational candidate, said U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore.

Moore and his running mate, former state delegate Aruna Miller, “inspire the young and the old among us to believe again in things that are possible,” Mfume said, as he joined a long list of politicians backing the Moore campaign.

Moore, 43, is among 10 Democrats on the primary ballot for governor this summer, alongside four Republicans. All are hoping to succeed the term-limited Hogan.

If elected, Moore would be the state’s first Black governor. Maryland’s 30 governors have all been white men. The last two Democratic nominees for governor were Black — Ben Jealous in 2018 and Anthony Brown in 2014 — and both were defeated by Hogan.

As Moore weighed whether to get involved in politics for the first time, he said he saw opportunity in moving the state forward from the years of Republican leadership.

“I started thinking that this actually could be an important moment for our state to ask itself: Where are we going? And what are we hoping for? And can we actually firmly address these challenges that have been long-term — or in many cases, that have been generational — that we haven’t solved?” Moore said. “In some cases, you can say we’ve gotten marginally better. In some cases, they’ve actually been partially worse. We needed a new perspective, a new approach.”

“And that,” Moore said, “is what really led me to say: ‘I’m going to run for governor.’”

Unlike the other leading Democratic candidates for governor, Moore largely lacks experience in government and politics, aside from one year in his 20s when he was a White House Fellow at the State Department.

At a recent news conference, Moore seemed unfazed by a question from a reporter about whether he’s qualified to be governor, given his lack of experience in local and state government.

In the various facets of his career, Moore said he has always focused on “working in communities and with communities.” Besides, he noted, more state lawmakers have endorsed his campaign than any other campaign, a sure sign of their faith in his leadership and ability to govern.

Moore’s political endorsers come from across the state, including the presiding officers of the General Assembly, State Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County.

“They’ve seen us work, they’ve seen us move in partnership,” Moore said. “It is because what is going to be required of the state’s next chief executive is for us to be able to move with all sectors of our society and build a society where everyone is going to have a voice, and that I have done for my entire life and my entire career.”

Moore said voters want a candidate who is a fresh voice with “a history of getting big things done,” not a politician seeking a promotion.

“I would put my executive leadership and my executive experience against anybody else in this field,” he said.

Moore said he has the experience and vision to lead Maryland after eight years under Hogan’s Republican leadership. His prior career stops have prepared him to understand the problems that government has the ability to address.

Moore has raised the most amount of cash of any candidate: $7.1 million since he launched his campaign last June, with $2.1 million on hand for the final stretch of the campaign, enabling him to potentially run more TV ads than his rivals. (And he hasn’t yet had to report the haul from the Winfrey event.)

He’s won over voters with his slogan of “work, wages and wealth” — a promise of economic opportunity and mobility, particularly for those who’ve been left behind.

“We have to make our state more competitive while also making it more equitable,” Moore said. “We have to close the racial wealth gap.”

Moore, like most of the Democratic candidates, also promises to improve transportation, combat climate change, and invest in an ambitious and expensive plan to improve public schools known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. He won the coveted endorsement of the statewide teachers union.

He also pledges to protect the right to abortion and suggests providing resources to medical providers so they feel safe in their clinics.

But along the way, Moore also has faced a number of questions and critiques in this campaign, among them:

  • Reports have questioned Moore’s roots in Baltimore. Moore’s best-selling memoir, “The Other Wes Moore,” makes clear that he spent most of his childhood in the Bronx, before his mom moved to Anne Arundel County when Moore was a teenager. But numerous writers and interviewers, including Winfrey, have said Moore was born and raised in Baltimore, or is a native Baltimorean — statements that have gone uncorrected by Moore. Moore’s team alleged that a rival campaign had violated campaign finance laws by anonymously distributing a research document about Moore’s background and filed a complaint with authorities; there have been no charges or sanctions.
  • Others question whether Moore has inappropriately built his personal brand on the backs of the “other” Wes Moore profiled in his book, who is serving a life sentence for the death of an off-duty police officer during a botched robbery, and of the family of the officer, Sgt. Bruce Prothero. Some in the Prothero family have publicly criticized Moore’s gubernatorial campaign. Moore’s spokesman says: “We have nothing but deep respect for the service and sacrifice of the late Sgt. Bruce Prothero and his family.”
  • Moore touts his for-profit company, BridgeEdU, as being successful in helping at-risk students in Baltimore succeed in their first year of college. The Baltimore Banner found that while some students thrived, multiple universities dropped the programs because they weren’t as successful as hoped. BridgeEdU was sold after five years to another company that discontinued the work, but found value in the data that had been collected on student performance.

Asked by The Baltimore Banner generally about the questions that have followed his campaign and whether he’d like to offer any clarifications, Moore said he’s been “very clear and transparent.”

The attacks from rivals and the media and dealing with “toxic” politics has been a challenge, he said.

“Had I known that politeness a decade ago somehow would be intentionally misconstrued to somehow be manipulated to somehow think that I was being disingenuous? That’s been hurtful,” Moore said.

The way Moore has handled criticism impresses Don Mohler, who served as Baltimore County executive in 2018 and now co-hosts the “Baltimore Positive” podcast.

“Wes is more than capable of taking all the incoming shots,” said Mohler, who has endorsed Moore. “I think the way he’s responded speaks volumes about why he’s going to be a great governor. You can’t be overly sensitive if you’re going to be in these leadership roles.”

State Sen. Antonio Hayes, a Democrat who represents West Baltimore, said Moore is genuine and smart. Hayes said he isn’t bothered by Moore’s lack of experience in government — in fact, he says that’s an asset.

“I think he’s better positioned because he’s not jaded by being part of the political establishment,” Hayes said. “He’s been out in the real world, dealing with real-world problems.”

From 2017 until he launched his gubernatorial campaign last year, Moore was the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit that, true to its name, accepts donations from business executives and corporate interests and issues hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year to an array of charitable causes. Moore earned nearly $1 million in salary and other compensation, according to Robin Hood’s tax filings.

While Robin Hood’s work is mostly in the New York City region, Moore directed some of the grants to Baltimore. Hayes saw it firsthand, when he learned that Robin Hood gave a grant for a project in West Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood. “Even before being in this race for governor, he was already committed to Baltimore,” Hayes said.

The fact that Moore is running for governor doesn’t surprise Kurt Schmoke, a former Baltimore mayor who is now president of the University of Baltimore. Moore worked as an intern in the mayor’s office while in college, and Schmoke said he “liked him from the start.”

“He was a very hard worker and somebody who always asked to do more. He wanted to go above and beyond what was asked of him,” Schmoke said.

It was Schmoke who suggested that Moore apply for a Rhodes scholarship that sent him to Oxford, England to study international affairs. The two have kept in touch over the years, though Schmoke is careful to note that as a public university administrator, he’s officially staying neutral in the governor’s race.

But, he adds: “I don’t shy away from saying on a personal basis that I really think Wes is just a great guy and a wonderful person.”

Correction

This story listed the incorrect location for Moore's Rhodes scholarship. He studied in Oxford, England.

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