Oprah Winfrey's former colleagues at WJZ in Baltimore think she would make a fine president

If Oprah Winfrey does indeed run for president, Richard Sher, her former talk-show partner at Baltimore’s WJZ, is all in.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Oprah would make a fabulously intelligent, fabulously competent president of the United States, and comforting president of the United States,” he said Monday afternoon.

Winfrey’s rousing speech at Sunday’s Golden Globes on sexual and racial inequality and seizing the moment set social media afire almost immediately. The TV personality and mogul, who got her start at Baltimore’s WJZ in 1976, has often said she has no interest in running for office. “I will never run for public office,” she told the Hollywood reporter in June 2017. “That’s a pretty definitive thing.”

But that didn’t stop speculation that Winfrey’s nine-minute speech Sunday night, in accepting the Hollywood Foreign Press’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, could prove an opening salvo in an Oprah-for-President campaign. By Monday morning, the hashtag “#oprah2020” was a trending topic on Twitter. CNN reported Monday that Winfrey is “actively thinking” about running for president, according to two close friends. And Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told The Los Angeles Times that “she would absolutely do it."

Sher remains close with Winfrey, a friend since they began working together on WJZ’s “People are Talking” when it debuted in August 1978. He had just gotten off the phone with Winfrey, Sher said, who was “blown away” by reaction to the speech.

“She is overwhelmed by the groundswell of support and the media avalanche that has happened,” he said. “That speech last night was so outstanding. It struck a chord with so many people. … Not only the folks in the audience, but the whole country, who are looking for an alternative to what is available now.”

Beverly Burke, who was brought in by WJZ to replace Winfrey when she left Baltimore for Chicago in December 1983, said she also gladly would jump on any Oprah bandwagon.

“It would be a good thing,” said Burke. “I would not be surprised if this picked up momentum.”

The hype doesn’t surprise Burke, whose time at WJZ only overlapped Winfrey’s by about two weeks, but said she was impressed by her colleague’s power and charisma then, and still is.

“She has never stopped making headlines,” said Burke, who remains in the Baltimore area, where she works as a media consultant, including for The Baltimore Sun. “Immediately after she moved to Chicago, she never stopped making headlines.”

“I’ve loved her work, I’ve loved her enterprising ways,” Burke added. “The inspiration that she laid out for people, no matter their color or walk in life, is one that's a message I’d like to be behind.”

Sher joked that Winfrey promised him a job in the White House if she runs. He also said, however, that he’s not so sure she’ll ever throw her hat in the ring.

More: Read Oprah Winfrey's Golden Globes speech »

“She is very happy where she is in life,” Sher said. “She touches so many people in so many ways...She’s very content with that, and helping make a difference in this world. I’m not sure she’d be happy doing it at the White House.”

Plenty of celebrities have been quoted in the press or taken to social media since Sunday night in support of launching Winfrey on the road to the presidency.

“She launched a rocket tonight,” actor Meryl Streep told The Washington Post. “I want her to run for president.”

Actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. tweeted, “She’s running. A new day is on the way,” while country singer Billy Gilman joined the Twitter chorus with “@Oprah, my friend. Please run for President.” Even conservative columnist Bill Kristol tweeted,“Oprah. #ImWithHer.”

Actress and Maryland native Paula Marshall, who posted her support for Winfrey on her Facebook page Sunday night, left little doubt where her sympathies lie.

“If a racist, arrogant, buffoon can tap into the hate in our country, I’m pretty sure a brilliant motivating powerhouse can pull us out with strength, compassion and love,” she wrote in an email Monday morning, “#Oprah2020."

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskaltsun

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