Wes Moore, placing his hand on a Bible once owned by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, took his oath of office Wednesday to become Maryland’s 63rd governor, the state’s first and the country’s only current Black chief executive.
Moore was sworn in alongside his family, new Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller and state lawmakers inside the State House’s Senate chamber in Annapolis and addressed a crowd of well-wishers outside the historic building after being introduced by Oprah Winfrey. Guests included Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr.
“Today is not the victory — today is the opportunity,” Moore said in his inaugural remarks. “An opportunity to lead with love. An opportunity to create with compassion. An opportunity to fight fearlessly for our future.”
The moment punctuated the swift and historic rise of Moore, a 44-year-old political newcomer living in Baltimore who became a rising star in Democratic politics during a campaign in which he pledged to tackle generational problems such as child poverty and racial wealth gaps.
A former bestselling author, Army veteran and nonprofit leader, Moore spent his career circling politics before jumping into the race to succeed Republican Larry Hogan, who left office after eight years with high approval ratings among voters of both parties. Maryland governors are limited to two, four-year terms.
After defeating a crowded field of experienced Democrats in the primary, Moore’s 32-percentage-point victory over Republican Dan Cox in November marked the largest winning margin for any governor in the state in nearly four decades.
In the months since the election, Moore kept quiet about his specific and immediate policy plans while saying voters overwhelmingly supported his vision to make the coming years “Maryland’s decade.”
In his 20-minute speech Wednesday, Moore promised to both ”support our first responders who risk everything to protect us, and change the inexcusable fact that Maryland incarcerates more Black boys than any other state.” He said data-driven strategies would help keep violent offenders off the streets.
Moore also said the state would confront climate as “a leader in wind technology, in grid electrification, and clean transit.”
And he repeated a frequent campaign pledge to create a paid year of service for high school graduates, as well as promising to invest in special education students, students learning English and LGBTQIA+ students, “and every kid who needs a little extra help.”
Winfrey greeted the crowd with a “Hello, Maryland!” and said she met Moore in 2010 when she interviewed him about his first book, “The Other Wes Moore.” She said she learned Jan. 6, 2021, that he wanted to run for governor when he called her, even as scenes of rioting at U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump were being shown live on CNN.
“’You want to run in this climate?’” she remembered asking, and said he replied, “’Exactly. Exactly.’”
Though he sometimes downplayed during the campaign the fact that he would be Maryland’s first Black governor — saying repeatedly his “assignment was not to make history” — his inauguration day embraced Maryland’s Black heritage.
That included a visit in the morning to City Dock in Annapolis, where enslaved Africans once arrived on Maryland’s shores. Of the gathering with prominent Black leaders, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Moore said it was important to acknowledge Maryland’s long road from slavery to his inauguration.
Among those who joined him there were newly sworn-in Attorney General Anthony Brown and former NAACP leader Ben Jealous. They’re the most recent prior Democratic nominees for governor, who many expected would be the ones to break the color barrier in Maryland’s top elected office.
Sherrilyn Ifill, a former University of Maryland School of Law professor and former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said at City Dock that Moore “has invited us to ask, ‘How should we reconcile this auspicious moment with the history that calls us from this place?’”
She spoke of Douglass sailing past the very spot they were standing 197 years ago as he traveled as an enslaved boy from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore. She also spoke of Kunta Kinte, the ancestor of “Roots” author Alex Haley, and whose name is memorialized at the dock because of his arrival there in 1767.
”This history, the history of chattel slavery in this country and in the state of Maryland, has shaped the political, social, economic and legal infrastructure of our cities, counties and our state. We cannot deny it, much as we may try,” Ifill said. “Our confrontation with this history is the only way we can overcome its lingering effects.”
After the brief event, which was not open to the general public, Moore and the group walked the few blocks back to the State House, where people gathered in the surrounding streets and video screens and chairs for guests filled the area known as Lawyer’s Mall west of the State House.
The sense of history was not lost on the crowd there. Jocelyn Montgomery, 45, and Janiya Deshields, 16, drove about two hours Wednesday from Salisbury. They’ve known each other for five years, as Montgomery used to be Deshields’ youth pastor.
”My parents and my grandparents always tell stories of being a part of history, but now actually being able to be here to be a part of it, it’s amazing for me,” Montgomery said. “It’s a great day to make history.”
More than 5,000 people attended, said Moore spokesman Carter Elliott IV, a number based on the programs handed out, although some people received several copies of the program.
Up on the stage, the children of Moore and Miller had star turns at special moments in the ceremony. The new governor’s 9-year-old son, James, led the Pledge of Allegiance, while Miller’s three adult daughters introduced their “mommy.”
Miller, who immigrated from India when she was 7, swore her oath of office on the Bhagavad-Gita, a book of Hindu scripture. Moore recognized both Miller’s mother, Hema, and his mother, Joy, as immigrants whose children are now in the highest offices in the state.
“You are proof that in Maryland, anything is possible,” Moore said as he looked at them.
After the inaugural festivities in Annapolis, a “People’s Ball” was planned at the Baltimore Convention Center for 11,000 ticketed guests, Elliott said. A tuxedo-clad Moore arrived at the ball site in the early evening, and he, his wife and Miller appeared before reporters.
Moore called the day “overwhelming.”
“A day like today – as much as you can prepare for it – is impossible to predict,” he said. “We went into it thinking that we were prepared and it’s frankly absolutely impossible to prepare for the wave of emotions.”
Among the particularly memorable moments, he said, was when he noticed Winfrey kindly trying to calm his son, who was nervous. He said that image stuck in his head.
Moore’s administration faces a tight turnaround to produce both budget and legislative priorities for the 90-day General Assembly session that began last week.
On Friday, he will announce his first state budget plan, outlining the programs and issues he will turn his attention toward during his first year. His team also will introduce bills that he hopes will pass in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. So far legislative leaders have expressed optimism in working with Moore and sharing priorities as they control both branches of government for the first time in eight years.
While specifics remain unclear, Moore has spoken with urgency about several topics that he could focus on in the coming days: hiring more state workers to fill vacant or previously eliminated positions, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour earlier than planned and quickly releasing $3.5 million in funds the General Assembly approved last year to train additional clinicians to perform abortions. Hogan withheld the money after lawmakers expanded abortion access without his approval last year.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Maya Lora contributed to this article.