The first time the debate over Wes Moore’s future entered the national media spotlight, he wasn’t on a book tour or in the midst of prestigious programs like the Rhodes scholarship or White House Fellowship.
He was a 17-year-old spectator at the NBA draft, watching Kobe Bryant and other teenagers he knew from Amateur Athletic League games and a camp for high school players take a leap he thought he might make one day. A standout point guard at Valley Forge Military Academy, Moore had once fantasized about being drafted by the New York Knicks.
But playing against future all-stars had forced him to rethink his options. Maybe, he told a New York Times reporter at the draft, he’d go to law school and enter politics instead.
“I still want to walk across that stage one day,” Moore said in the 1996 article. “But if [the NBA commissioner] never calls my name, I won’t look at everything I’ve accomplished and say, ‘It doesn’t matter because I wasn’t drafted.’ I’ll move on.”
Twenty-six years later, the Democrat who hopes to become Maryland’s governor has studied in South Africa and Great Britain, worked as an investment banker in London and New York, led paratroopers in Afghanistan, become a bestselling author, started a production company and run one of the largest U.S. nonprofits.
Moore is the favorite to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan this fall as he faces GOP nominee Dan Cox. He’s led two statewide polls this fall by wide margins and massively outraised Cox so far in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1.
Moore said the idea of elected office only started to feel like a real possibility in 2020, when he was about to leave his job running Robin Hood, a poverty-fighting nonprofit.
But politics has never been far out of sight — whether he was a teenager mulling his options, a celebrity author being recruited to run for Congress or, as a Baltimore Sun profile described him in his late 20s, someone who “has dreamed of being governor of Maryland.”
“Back when he was an undergraduate, he was discussing the possibility of a political career,” said Matthew Crenson, a retired Johns Hopkins University political science professor who was once Moore’s adviser.
“I suggested that he start off the way many Maryland political careers start — by running for delegate,” Crenson said. “His response was, ‘I prefer an executive position.’”
Moore said he needed time to determine his skill set and his interests.
“There were things that I had to go through to really figure out who I was,” he said.
Moore’s trademark smile and charisma, as well as his reach-across-the-aisle persona, have been chronicled for decades.
“I’ve always been one to build bridges between people,” a 22-year-old Rhodes scholar Moore, sounding like a 43-year-old candidate Moore, told a Sun reporter in 2000.
Moore’s friends, colleagues and mentors say he’s been consistent: Ambitious, yet patient. They say there’s boundless positive energy with a sense of seriousness. They see him as strategic about his path and at the same time committed to the job he’s in. He’s been waiting for the time, and the position, where he can make the biggest impact, they say.
“It’s really easy for someone as young and forward-looking to be lured by the siren calls,” said Mustafa Riffat, a friend from when they worked at Citibank. “He has stuck to what he thinks is his North Star.”
‘The right moment at the right time’
After living the first few years of his life in Takoma Park, Moore moved with his mother and two sisters to his grandparents’ home in the Bronx following the death of his father, a radio reporter.
Moore, who is Black, wrote in the bestselling book “The Other Wes Moore,” that he felt caught between his Bronx neighborhood and a predominantly white, private school his mother thought would be a haven. The book chronicled his upbringing and that of a Baltimore man with the same name who is in prison for his role in a robbery that killed Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero.
In the Bronx, Moore began skipping school and, at 11, was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car after spray-painting his nickname on a wall. His mother soon sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania.
“He embraced the structure and embraced having the mentors who were kind of like having big brothers,” Justin Brandon, Moore’s best friend from the Bronx, said.
The many lives of Wes Moore
Moore’s path to the top tier of state politics left a trail of insights into a man who was shaped by military school, won prestigious educational opportunities and worked in high finance and public service.
Afghanistan — where he spent nearly a year as an officer in the 82nd Airborne — energized him, he’s written.
Other steps came with mixed emotions. His more than a year at Deutsche Bank in London and five years at Citibank in New York is the part of his resume he evokes the least in his campaign. “In “The Work: Searching for a Life That Matters,” published in 2015, Moore writes of having a corporate credit card and a “closet full” of designer clothes while working as a junior associate in London, but being “occasionally roiled by deeper existential questions.”
When he returned to finance after his deployment and White House Fellowship, it was simply the “easiest choice.”
“He wanted to realize how finance could be used for good,” said Riffat. “How finance works. How power works. How people who finance political campaigns work, because everyone knows Wall Street money is everywhere in politics.”
Living in Jersey City and then a New York apartment while working in Manhattan, Moore and his wife, Dawn, who he married in 2007, also owned a home in South Baltimore’s Riverside neighborhood. She was a campaign manager for Democrat Anthony Brown, then was a top aide to Brown when he was lieutenant governor.
By the time Moore left Wall Street and returned to Baltimore in late 2012, the couple had a home in North Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood and he’d started a production company and a real estate investment entity, according to public records. He was hosting shows on the Oprah Winfrey Network and PBS (Winfrey endorsed him this year) and making appearances on national talk shows as acclaim for “The Other Wes Moore,” released two years earlier, continued.
Questions about his political prospects abounded.
“Every day I hear a new rumor about what my plans are …. I have no intention to run for office,” Moore told The Sun in 2013. There was more than one way to serve, he said, as he lent his visibility to local causes and an education-focused organization, BridgeEdU, he started in 2014.
In 2017, the Moores and their two children moved to a $2.3 million home in Guilford, while Moore began working in New York again. This time, for Robin Hood, he would commute on a 5 a.m. train from Baltimore.
In his four years, the Robin Hood foundation distributed $600 million to anti-poverty efforts. His salary in 2020, his last full year, was $900,000, with an additional $100,000 in “other compensation,” according to the nonprofit’s financial reports.
Wes Moore the candidate
Weaving through a crowded Maryland State Fairground over Labor Day weekend, Moore’s bubbly personality was on display. Moore leaned in close and he leaned down, gravitating to elementary-school-age kids with their parents.
“Come on!” he roared as he talked to a second grader about his school sports. “It’s an honor to meet you,” he told another. “Just in time! Just in time!” he exclaimed as two teenagers told him they’d be able to vote in the election.
“He’s a very charismatic man and he’s just what Baltimore needs,” said Linda Rockford, a retired teacher at the fair. “I have always been a Hogan fan. But I also believe in change.”
Nichelle Gibbs, 43, of Baltimore, voted for former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez in the primary because he had the experience of working in the Obama administration. Now, she plans to pick Moore.
“Based on the other candidate, I’m sure I’m going to vote for him,” she said.
Perez, who lost to Moore by about 15,350 votes out of more than 955,000 cast, sought to turn Moore’s financial sector experience into a negative during one primary debate, criticizing him for working at “one of many banks that were very bad actors in the foreclosure crisis.” Also, in an interview with the Times, Perez suggested Democrats would be safer in the general election if they nominated himself, referring to challenges to details of Moore’s personal story as told by others.
Moore has said he’s been accurate about his birthplace and military service and took multiple steps to correct a back-cover summary of his first book that suggested he was originally from Baltimore.
Perez endorsed Moore in August.
Moore also faced questions in recent days about an outstanding city water bill of more than $20,000. A campaign spokesperson said the couple hadn’t been aware of the issue. They paid the balance while they review the accuracy of the charges, the spokesperson said. The couple responded similarly in 2013 when The Sun asked about a property tax break for a house they were renting out — one meant for homes occupied by owners — saying they hadn’t been aware, wanted to pay what they owed and would investigate.
In this summer’s primary, several key elements helped Moore, including an early endorsement from Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. She threw the weight of her campaign operation behind Moore in the county that’s home to the largest number of Democratic voters in the state. Moore’s win there got him past Perez’s victory in his home county of Montgomery.
Alsobrooks said she met with every candidate who asked for her endorsement, then picked someone she hadn’t known before.
“People were surprised because they literally had never heard of Wes Moore,” Alsobrooks said of her endorsement. A “flood of phone calls” she received were mostly around the questions “Why?” and “Who?”
“You can’t represent people you don’t know or understand,” she said. “I felt he really, really listened with his mind and also with his heart.”
Kaye Whitehead, a professor of communication and African American studies at Loyola University who hosts a show on WEAA-FM, said Moore has a “clear and concise message” of inclusion, community and progressive issues — not so different from the strategy Hogan had in his outsider campaign in 2014, when he made a pledge to lift Maryland up economically.
“It just reminds you of Barack Obama. Someone who had a different way of talking to people, who is talking about community first, who is talking about giving people back the power to decide what is happening to their lives,” Whitehead said.
“He’s not just [coming] up to be a superstar in Maryland. He’s a superstar in the party right now,” she added. If he wins in November, Moore’s resume and charisma are almost certainly setting him up to join a conversation among national Democrats about who’s best to run for the White House.
“If I had a nickel for every time someone has approached me to ask if he will be president — when will he be president — I could probably start my own venture capital fund,” said Riffat, now an executive vice president at Edelman, a public relations company.
Moore, however, is not one to get ahead of himself.
Maryland Policy & Politics
“I’m committed to Maryland,” Moore said, with his classic grin, when asked about his future. “I’ve never held a position in anticipation of the next position. ... And I feel like things have worked out pretty well.”