Wes Moore Launches Historic Bid for Maryland Governor

    In entering Maryland’s 2022 gubernatorial race, Wes Moore has set out to become only the third African American in U.S. history to be elected governor (though two others were elevated to the office from lieutenant governor). His bid—with the Democratic primary in July followed by the election on Nov. 8—may be his first time stepping into the political arena, but he does so with significant name recognition, not just in Maryland but nationally.

    His resume is impressive: paratrooper and Afghanistan vet, Rhodes scholar, White House Fellow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, investment banker, nonprofit CEO and New York Times bestselling author. It’s that last bullet point for which he is perhaps best known outside his home state.

    In his debut book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates (The Chicago Tribune described it as “a call to arms”), he recounted the different paths he and another young man with the same name followed growing up without a father. While he was steered away from a troubled adolescence to success, the other Wes Moore ended up in jail. The 2010 book, optioned for a movie, has become required reading in some schools for exploring how choices and circumstances impact our lives.

    Moore chose former state delegate and congressional candidate Aruna Miller, who came to the United States from India as a child, as his Maryland running mate. Their shared ticket appears attractive to a growing number of the Northeastern state’s 6 million residents, whose makeup is among the most diverse in the country. Women constitute more than half the population, while close to 50% are from communities of color. Almost one in three residents is African American.

    “It’s not lost on me that the state of Maryland, despite those numbers, has never elected an African American statewide,” Moore says. “But we feel very deeply that if we stay on our thesis and if we stay on our path, and this campaign keeps on the pace that it’s on right now, we will be able to not just make history but be able to address the issues that we’re looking to address that have been generational and make some of those challenges history.”

    Grassroots support has been strong, with almost $5 million in campaign funds raised largely through small donations (the Moore Miller for Maryland website donation page starts at $10). And while a newcomer to politics, Moore’s expanding list of endorsers includes two former Baltimore County executives who have described him as someone who “knows what’s needed to bring about progress.”

    Attacking the roots
    The experience Moore’s backers reference is well-rounded, from public service to the private sector and the nonprofit world. He earned an associate’s degree from Valley Forge Military College, a bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University and an MLitt from England’s prestigious Oxford University, where he studied on a coveted Rhodes Scholarship.

    On leaving the army, he worked in finance and founded BridgeEdU, which helps struggling high school students successfully transfer to community college, increasing their prospects of success. Then for five years he led Robin Hood, one of the country’s largest anti-poverty foundations partnering with nonprofits to provide food, housing, education, employment and legal services, before stepping down last year to set his sights on the Governor’s mansion.

    Moore’s love for his home state runs deep. He speaks of “some of my most amazing and traumatic memories” there. It’s where he met his wife and they are raising their two children in its largest city (he calls himself “a Baltimorean by choice,” having come of age there after moving there as a teenager). He notes Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, “a place where literally some of the greatest technology companies in the world are being built.”

    And yet. “We have children who don’t have Wi-Fi and broadband. We have some of the greatest medical institutions in the world—people literally travel from around the globe to come to the state of Maryland to get treated—and we have people who live down the street from those medical facilities who cannot afford to get treated.” There is simply “no reason for our state to be so inequitable,” he asserts.

    One of those widest chasms is economic. He points to an eight-to-one racial wealth gap in the state. Though through Robin Hood he was able to be part of addressing that, helping lift disadvantaged families out of poverty, he decided that he needed to do more—going upstream to stop people from falling into the water, rather than rescuing them as they are swept by him and drown.

    “Why do you think the issue exists in the first place?” he asks. Because “there are policies that continue to create mechanisms and barriers for economic growth and economic options. And so until we can address those barriers, until we can address those policies, we will find ourselves cleaning up the debris that comes from broken policies.”

    Education is another core issue. He wants to make free pre-K available for every child in need in the state “because all the data continues to show that 80% of brain development happens by the time a child is 5 years old.” So, waiting until then to get kids into school “makes absolutely no sense. We’re going to invest in community schools, because it’s not just about curriculum changes.” He also pledges to invest in seeing more teachers of color in classrooms “because we want our educator and our paraeducator core to actually look like and resemble the state and [its] children.”

    He acknowledges the challenges are great, such as in struggling Baltimore. “You cannot have a thriving Maryland if you do not have a growing Baltimore and Baltimore region,” he says. “And I don’t say that because I’m a Baltimorean; I say that because I’m pretty good at math. This is simple mathematics. As the gateway to the state of Maryland, for many, it’s important that we’re able to leverage the core assets that the state has, many of which are here within the city of Baltimore, and know that if you can have economic growth and economic stimulation there, that in turn will increase gross domestic product for the state of Maryland.”

    He finds hope in the example of Atlanta, which over the last 30 years has gone from “a relatively sleepy town” to somewhere “rivaling Los Angeles for economic or entertainment industry dominance.” Investments in different parts of the state will all go to “the benefit of one Maryland and a growing and a more competitive and a more equitable state, which is exactly what we want to accomplish.”

    Bringing people together

    With the considerable impact he has been able to make through his work, why did he decide to go into politics? After all he has, he acknowledges, long been a public servant. It’s about tackling the problems upstream, he answers. Having worked with state leaders on some initiatives, he sees the need for “a strong chief executive that is able to work across sectors, work with the private sector, work with nonprofits, work with philanthropy, work with the legislative branch and the executive branch of government, work with community organizations and work with the people to be able to make big, bold things happen.” And he feels his “unique skillset and background” positions him to “uniquely add to the conversation.”

    Moore’s conviction of the importance of service and education is evidenced in one of the planks of his campaign—a paid year of service in housing, education, transportation or some other area available to every high school graduate. “For two reasons,” he explains. “One is because it helps to address the college affordability crisis. And the other big reason is I’m a big believer that service is sticky and those who serve together generally stay together. I’ve seen that firsthand from my military brothers and sisters.”

    Indeed, Moore’s military service—as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, with combat deployment to Afghanistan—remains a formative thread in his life. Joining up at 17, his mother had to approve his application (“but after my teenage years, she was more than happy to sign whatever paperwork to get me off”).

    “I remember our first days of basic, they said something to us that they asked us to live by and I did. It was a mantra, and the mantra was simply this: Leave nobody behind… I want that to be the mantra for the state of Maryland. I want us to say we are going to grow, but we’re going to grow inclusively, we’re going to build collectively.”

    Moore draws on his decade of military service to this day. “I use the skills that they taught me, skills like small-unit leadership and understanding that there are going to be certain people that are going to be motivated by carrots and certain people that can more be motivated by sticks, and so your job is to identify which ones are which and know that you have to be able to motivate a collection of people who are coming from disparate perspectives, but to say, ‘I need everyone on the same sheet.’”

    In canvassing for support, he’s come across people who have told him that they like what he has to say, but they are on the other side of the political aisle. His response to them: “Do you know a question I never asked my soldiers when I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan? ‘What’s your political party?’ It never came up. Never asked the question. We had one goal, one mission.” Same thing when he was in business. “I never asked either my co-workers or my customers, ‘How did you vote in the last election?’ It never came up, wasn’t important.”

    Making a sacrifice
    In seeking the Democratic nomination, Moore recognizes that he can’t presume upon African Americans’ historic support for the party. “There’s not a single group that we should just bake in, like, ‘Oh, we’ve got them so let’s focus on somebody else,’” he says. “Because the reality is, it’s just like with any relationship—with any friendship, with any marriage or any partnership, if you take that relationship for granted, that relationship will look elsewhere, right?

    “People need to feel like they are a central part of how you think about your future, and it is important for the party to continue to remind African Americans why African Americans can and should stay loyal to the Democratic Party.”

    That means “keeping the main thing the main thing.” And that is working wages and wealth, he says. “Particularly talking to an African American audience, if we’re not talking about economics, I don’t know what we’re talking about,” because “the Black experience in this country and the Black experience in the state of Maryland has inherently been a traumatic one.”

    He goes on to cite his own painful experience of losing his father while a small boy. Dad was sent home from a hospital when he arrived there looking disheveled because “there were assumptions about whether or not he had insurance.” He later died at home.

    Moore acknowledges the toll that loss took on his mother. “When she witnessed her husband die in front of her and knew that she was going to raise three kids on her own, that was not the life that she prepared for or expected or prayed over,” he says. “I know despite all the challenges that she had—mental health challenges, et cetera—I always say that the greatest gift that God gave me was when he asked Joy Moore to be my mom, because just in that he was proving to me that he loved me.” Moore’s little sister puts it best, he adds: “Our mother wore sweaters so we could wear coats.”

    Other people who made a profound impact on him include now-Three-Star General Michael Fenzel, who was a deputy brigade commander for Moore’s unit in Afghanistan and later a groomsman at his wedding. “One of the most important men in my life,” he says. Then there was Ray McGuire, for whom Moore worked when he went into finance for a time: “A tremendous mentoring guide to me still to this day.”

    Returning to the central message of his campaign—economics—Moore notes that if the wealth gap in this country were eliminated right now, “that would actually be worth about $1.7 trillion in gross domestic product growth and economic activity over the next decade.” People are “willing to sacrifice if they feel like they’re doing it for a reason,” he observes. “But if I feel like I’m sacrificing into a void, that’s no longer sacrifice. That’s just suffering.”

    From an interview with Louis Carr

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