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Politics

First friend? Oprah lends her star power and local ties to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s inauguration.

Her stamp is golden, selling any number of books, movies and other media over the years. But on Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey came to Annapolis not so much to sell but to tell Marylanders, you picked right.

“I trust you. I trust your vision. I trust your leadership,” Winfrey said to Maryland’s newly inaugurated Democratic governor, Wes Moore.

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“And I want you to know,” she told the crowd gathered outside the State House, “you can trust it, too.”

The so-called queen of all media added her star power and personal friendship with the new governor to his inauguration. She introduced him before he gave his inaugural speech, much as she introduced him to the audience of her former daytime talk show in 2010, when his bestselling book, “The Other Wes Moore” was published.

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Oprah Winfrey shows emotion during the inauguration of Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore in Annapolis.

For Winfrey, the event was also a homecoming. The one-time anchorwoman for WJZ-TV in Baltimore spoke warmly of being a 22-year-old who in 1976 moved to Columbia in Howard County for the job.

“I’m baaaaack,” she chortled.

Winfrey remembered walking around Baltimore, seeing billboards and ads on the back of buses: “My face advertising the 6 o’clock news with Jerry Turner,” she said, “and a question ... ‘What is an Oprah?’”

Funny name aside, Winfrey conceded: “Honestly, I didn’t really know the answer to that myself.

“But I will tell you something, Maryland is where I figured it out.”

Winfrey said her eight years here were among “the most significant years of her life,” growing from a “naive girl” and setting off on a path where she is now perhaps the nation’s most familiar — and certainly its most empathetic — interviewer.

She gave local shout-outs to her WJZ co-host Richard Sher on “People are Talking” and to Bethel AME Church, where she went every Sunday. She noted the friendships she made here, with Maria Shriver and Gayle King.

And like a good friend, she returned the spotlight to the man of the moment and the state he will now lead.

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“It’s a place where so many others have done and will do exactly what I did: Plant the seeds of their wildest dreams and watch those seeds grow into reality,” Winfrey said. “Maryland is full to the brim with opportunity. It was back then, and I know that with Wes Moore as your governor, Maryland’s best days lie ahead.”

With Oprah on the stage, sometimes wiping away tears, the inaugural stage turned into a veritable lovefest with “a lot of hugging going on,” as its emcee, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, noted at one point.

For those in the audience, having the celebrated Winfrey speaking so generously about Moore made the inauguration even more special.

“She’s exciting, she’s motivating,” said Dr. Dana Truesdale, 45, a dentist who practices in Baltimore. “She definitely knows how to set the tone. It was inspirational.”

Adetola Ajayi, 41, an African American community services specialist for Democratic Mayor Gavin Buckley of Annapolis, agreed.

“Having someone of her stature here is beautiful,” he said.

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He and his co-worker, William Rowel, a public engagement and community relations specialist for Buckley, were among those who felt drawn to the event for the historic importance of Maryland inaugurating its first African American governor.

“Oprah descending on Annapolis and speaking on Wes Moore — it’s incredibly powerful,” Rowel said. “We’re changing the narrative of our history. History is now.”

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Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, 42, the state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said she related to Winfrey’s reminiscences of the role the state played in her self-discovery.

“I thought it was wonderful to hear her, sort of, origin story of Maryland, and to really frame Maryland as this place where you can find yourself, because I moved here from Texas and I’m raising my kids here,” Bevan-Dangel said. “And it is a lot of truth in that. I think today shows that this is a state where you can forge new beginnings.”

Seeing Winfrey back in the state reminded U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume of his own younger years, when she was at WJZ and he was a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore and working to start its radio station, WEAA-FM.

“She can’t get Maryland out of her blood,” Mfume said.

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Like others, the Baltimore Democrat enjoyed Winfrey’s remarks, but noted wryly that having such a starry launch to Moore’s governorship might pose a bit of a problem.

“I’m trying to figure out,” Mfume said, “how you top that, Mr. Governor.”

Governor Wes Moore and Oprah Winfrey pray during the benediction given by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt at the conclusion of the Inauguration Ceremony on Wednesday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Maya Lora and photographer Kenneth K. Lam contributed to this article.


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