Wes Moore Launches Bid for Governor With Vow to Eliminate Racial Wealth Disparities

Wes Moore. Courtesy photo.

Wes Moore launched his highly-anticipated bid for governor Monday, blending his personal and inspiring life story with a full-throated call for a more equitable Maryland.

Moore, the 42-year-old military veteran, best-selling author and former CEO of an anti-poverty organization, formally joined the Democratic primary race by releasing a campaign video that’s heavy on biography and his desire to close the wealth gap in Maryland.

“One thing has become clear to me: Opportunity is readily available to some and dangerously absent to others,” Moore says in the campaign ad.

In an interview, Moore said that even though he’s seeking the Democratic nomination against seasoned Maryland officeholders and potentially two former members of President Obama’s cabinet, he believes that after holding leadership positions in the military, in business, and with a high-profile philanthropy, he has the right experience to prevail in the primary and the general election — and to achieve his ambitious policy goals.

“There is nobody who is more experienced to tackle the challenges of today and lead a forward-facing conversation about the future,” he said.

Moore, who rose from poverty to become the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York-based philanthropic organization that distributed $600 million during Moore’s tenure, has resisted entreaties to run for public office before. But he said he was moved to do so this time because of the unequal devastation in Maryland wrought by COVID-19.

“Coming out of the pandemic we have got to focus in this state on closing the wealth gap in a way that we haven’t before,” the Baltimore resident said, adding that he planned on “being very deliberate about using the power of the second floor [of the State House] in Annapolis.”

Moore said his ultimate priority as governor would be to make Maryland the first state to “eliminate the racial wealth gap.” He noted that despite great pockets of affluence in Maryland, 45% of children live in poverty.

“This should not be allowed to stand,” he said.

With that goal in mind, Moore said that on the campaign trail he plans to emphasize issues like education, economic opportunity, wages and workforce development, entrepreneurship, equitable loan and investment programs, public transportation, and affordable housing.

Moore knows a thing or two about emerging from poverty and achieving great success. It’s long been part of his narrative as he’s made his way through a business career, his philanthropic work and becoming a best-selling author. Now he’ll attempt to use his biography as a potent political weapon.

A recent poll on the nine-candidate Democratic primary field found Moore in fifth place, with 2% of the vote. Significantly, he was unknown to 76% of the likely Democratic primary voters surveyed.

But Moore said that since he began traveling the state to explore a run for governor earlier this year, he discovered that through the coverage of his career and the books he’s written on the criminal justice system, poverty, and the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, voters seemed to know his story. “On name recognition, people’s acknowledgement and knowledge of our work is bigger than people think,” he said.

The campaign’s two minute and 48 second introductory video of Moore reinforces his narrative and aims to show that the candidate is equally fluent and effective in the halls of power and on city streets. The ad was produced by SKDK, a leading national Democratic media firm, and except for a brief segment where a man is talking in a barbershop that Moore is visiting, the candidate narrates throughout the entire piece.

“My name is Wes Moore,” he says as the ad begins. “When I was 3, I watched my dad die in our home. By 11, I felt the feeling of handcuffs on my wrists. My life could have gone a different way. But I was lucky. I had a mom who believed in me before I believed in myself. Kids like me, we didn’t think there was a world where anything was possible. We liked to say that my mom wore sweaters so we could wear coats.”

The video features footage of actors playing a young Moore and his mother, and there are frequently split-screen images of run-down areas and desirable neighborhoods. Some of the most arresting images come when figures on one side of the screen appear on the other, to make points about Moore’s background and success story or about the challenges facing the state. One features a woman cleaning a window on the left side of the screen who then appears on the right side in a white lab coat, completing a complex mathematical equation on a whiteboard.

“I believe no matter what roads you start down, you deserve a path to success,” Moore says in the ad. “Unlike most who run for office, I know what it’s like to struggle, and I know what it’s like to achieve dreams my parents couldn’t even have imagined.”

Moore joins a crowded Democratic primary field that already includes former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Clinton administration official Jon Baron, state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez is also pondering the race.

Moore has assembled a seasoned team of campaign staffers and advisers that includes several with prior Maryland experience.

Craig A. Thompson, a partner at Venable LLP, a leader in the Baltimore business community, and a longtime friend and mentor of Moore’s, is the campaign chairman. Lissa Muscatine, the co-owner of the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, is the campaign treasurer. The Montgomery County resident previously covered Maryland politics for The Washington Post.

Ned Miller, a veteran operative, is the campaign manager. Most recently he managed the  campaign of Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (D), who narrowly lost re-election in one of the country’s most competitive districts. Miller got his start in the business working for President Obama’s re-election campaign in Florida.

Lucinda Ware, a Maryland native and Baltimore resident, has the title of senior adviser. Ware worked as national political director for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s 2020 presidential campaign, and has worked for several top Maryland Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

Fred Yang, a principal at the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, is the campaign pollster. A Bethesda resident with a large national portfolio, he has worked for the three previous Democratic nominees for governor in Maryland.

Sophia Silbergeld, of Adeo Advocacy in Baltimore, is the senior adviser for fundraising. She has worked on several campaigns through the years, including for former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), Rawlings-Blake for Mayor, and Marylanders for Marriage Equality in 2012.

Doug Thornell, a longtime Democratic media and communications strategist who grew up in Silver Spring, is overseeing Moore’s media campaign at SKDK, where he is a partner. In 2020, he oversaw the firm’s advertising department, which produced over 800 ads. Through the years he has held top jobs with Democratic campaign committees and the Congressional Black Caucus, served as top media strategist for the NAACP, and has worked for several Maryland politicians, including Van Hollen, the late Rep. Elijah Cummings and Gansler.

SKDK’s media team includes two other Marylanders: Oren Shur, whose resume includes stints with U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and former Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), and Lester Davis, a Baltimore resident and former journalist who worked for former Baltimore mayor and Council Council president Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) for over a decade.

Sapphire Strategies, led by its president and founder Julia Ager, will lead Moore’s digital fundraising efforts. Her firm has worked for an array of Democratic candidates and committees, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“We’re going to have the best team in the field,” Moore said. “It’s a team that knows how to win.”

Moore declined to say what his campaign’s fundraising goals are, but said, “I have a full degree of confidence that we’re going to raise what we need to be successful. It has already started and it’s already exciting.”

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(Disclosure: Lucinda Ware, Moore’s senior adviser, was a featured speaker at a Maryland Matters fundraiser last fall.)

Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.