Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, dogged the past week by questions over whether he cultivated misperceptions about his biography or embellished his childhood ties to Baltimore, defended his record Friday and said he stands behind his words in a decade of media appearances and a bestselling autobiography.
Moore rejected claims he’d fed a false narrative about his upbringing by not correcting interviewers or others who incorrectly described him as having been born and raised in Baltimore. Moore, whose family lived in Takoma Park at the time of his birth and who spent much of his childhood in the Bronx, noted repeatedly in a brief interview Friday that his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” reflects that.
“I have been very clear and transparent,” said Moore. “I mean, literally, I talked about where I was born on page 7. I talked about how my family transitioned from Maryland to New York on page 37 of my book. I’ve been very clear and transparent about it in both what I’ve written and what I’ve said.”
Questions about Moore’s background have been raised by political operatives for months and surfaced publicly last week when Moore’s campaign filed a 14-page complaint accusing a rival candidate of anonymously circulating a political dossier that accuses Moore of intentionally encouraging a false perception of his past to embellish his up-from-the-streets back story.
An attorney for Moore’s campaign also requested a criminal investigation into who used an anonymous email address to send the dossier to leaders of the Maryland State Education Association ahead of a vote by the teachers’ union on its sought-after endorsement, which Moore won.
The complaint, which was sent to both the Maryland State Board of Elections and the Office of the State Prosecutor, offered no direct evidence that the rival campaign was behind the anonymous email address, which that rival denied. The Moore campaign argued that the emails broke state campaign finance law because they did not include disclosures indicating who paid for them.
His campaign publicly posted the dossier along with the complaint on a website, FactsMD.com, that attempts to rebut the allegations.
Moore, who lives in Baltimore and previously flirted with running for mayor, has the strongest personal ties to the city of any candidate. And in a 10-person field that may split allegiances in the larger prizes of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Baltimore could offer Moore a bloc of support.
Moore, 43, rose to national prominence and fame with the 2010 publication of “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.” The nonfiction book traced the divergent paths of himself — someone who graduated from Johns Hopkins University, won a prestigious Rhodes scholarship, served in the military, worked as an aide to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and later as an investment banker — and a man with the same name. The other Wes Moore is serving life without parole for his role in the murder of an off-duty Baltimore County police officer, Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, during a botched robbery of a Pikesville jewelry store.
The book accurately recounts Moore’s early childhood in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, which was upended after the death of his father when Moore was 3 years old. The family moved to the Bronx to be with his grandparents before relocating again — when Moore was 16 and attending boarding school at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania — to Pasadena in Anne Arundel County.
But the narrative, which is structured around parallels between the two similarly named men’s lives and the now-candidate’s belief that either could’ve easily ended up on very different paths, left some with the impression that the author was himself a native son of Baltimore.
“This is a story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore,” the author wrote at the beginning of the book’s introduction. “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
The political dossier circulated about Moore, as well as a lengthy piece CNN published Wednesday, cited that line among a number of ambiguous statements. Both also highlighted a number of instances, all of which were separately reviewed by The Baltimore Sun, where Moore failed to correct interviewers — such as Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert and Judy Woodruff of PBS’ “NewsHour” — who mischaracterized him as having been born in Baltimore or grown up in the same neighborhoods as the imprisoned man of the same name.
“There have been occasions where I have corrected a record where someone has said something incorrect,” Moore told The Sun after Good Friday services at New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore. “I stand by what I say, I stand by what I have written, I stand by the fact that when a person says that I came of age in the city of Baltimore, or that I’m a Baltimorean, or my hometown is Baltimore — that’s an absolutely accurate statement. And I will stand by that at all times.”
The five-minute interview with The Sun inside the church and brief news conference with television reporters outside was the first time Moore personally addressed the issue.
Some editions of the book, which remains widely sold and is required reading in some schools, contain a back-cover synopsis that begins: “Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other.” In fact, the author is more than three years younger and was born at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C.
A statement from the book’s publisher, Random House, to the Moore campaign said the inaccuracy was “flagged by the author at the time” but that “a correction to the copy was missed upon its initial publication.”
Moore, according to the publisher, notified Random House of the error again in 2021 — around the time he geared up to run for office — and Random House “corrected all subsequent print runs of the book.”
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The publisher would not say how many copies of the book included the inaccurate synopsis or when the inaccurate synopsis first appeared. A number of paperback copies in the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s collection reviewed by The Sun had the inaccurate synopsis on the back cover, although new copies for sale at a bookshop in the city had an updated summary that is accurate.
Moore said Friday that he informed his publisher to request a correction as soon as he noticed that the inaccuracy on the back cover of the paperback edition.
“As soon as I noticed that it was still incorrect, I flagged it for them and they went and fixed it,” said Moore.
The Sun erroneously has described Moore in the past as “Baltimore-born” or a “Baltimore native.” The news organization corrected those articles Friday.
Moore called the political dossier “a document of lies” on Friday and portrayed himself as the victim of an effort to smear him. Moore said he spent substantial time in Baltimore after his mother moved to Pasadena when he was 15 years old — saying he “found a second family over in West Baltimore [and] spent countless days and nights staying here in Baltimore” — and repeated that he felt like he was “coming home” when he moved to the Waverly neighborhood when he was 20 to attend Johns Hopkins.
“I’ve been consistent for my entire life, in my entire career, about why I call Baltimore home and why no one can take that away from me,” Moore told reporters outside the church. “This was a place that embraced me when other places did not.”
“I don’t think I misled the public at all. In fact, I think I’ve been incredibly transparent.”