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Government & Politics

When it comes to celebrities at the inauguration, there’s Oprah and there’s everybody else

“This might be his first day as an elected official. But Wes Moore has been a public servant his whole adult life. And there’s so much more to come. He’s just getting started,” Oprah Winfrey said during the inauguration ceremony for Moore, Maryland’s first Black governor. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

In what universe does Del. Wayne Hartman (R-Lower Shore) get a better seat than Eric Holder or Cal Ripken? Hard as it might be to imagine, that was the circumstance on Lawyers’ Mall in Annapolis on Wednesday at the swearing-in ceremony for Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D).

This was no ordinary gubernatorial inaugural. When former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) first took office in 2015, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was the biggest national celebrity on hand. Four years later, the headline attraction was former Florida governor and erstwhile presidential contender Jeb Bush (R).

But Moore is no ordinary Maryland politician: He’s already got a potent national network of former colleagues, admirers and supporters. And the historic nature of his governorship means that his inauguration was certain to national attention — and yes, celebrities. Which meant peering into the crowd on Lawyers’ Mall — as well as staring up at the stage erected for the inaugural ceremony on the steps of the State House, was a fun and all-consuming activity.

First, to the essential question. How did Hartman and other House Republicans get better seats than some of the bold-faced name in the crowd? Simple. They chose to skip the official swearing-in for Moore and Miller in the state Senate chamber that preceded the Lawyers Mall event and claim outdoor seating early, before much of the crowd got there.

In all, there wasn’t too much grousing about the seating arrangements. Except in the most toxic of partisan environments, inaugurals are meant to bring people together, which is why you could find Tom Perez, the former Democratic National Committee chair, who finished roughly 15,000 votes behind Moore in the July Democratic primary, chatting amiably on Lawyers’ Mall with John Kane, a former Maryland Republican chair who had once briefly thought about running for governor himself.

“You couldn’t ask for a better day,” said Kane’s wife, Mary Kane, the president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce — and a former GOP nominee for lieutenant governor.

And speaking of Maryland power couples, Michelle Jawando, a senior vice president at the Omidyar Network, a major charitable organization, who is married to Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D), found herself sitting a few rows behind her husband, at least temporarily, but that did not dampen her mood. The couple famously participated in a voter registration drive on their first date.

“It’s a special day,” she said.

Scoping the crowd for celebrity sightings, there was Holder, the first Black U.S. attorney general who served the first Black president, Barack Obama. There was former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), the second Black man to be elected governor in the U.S. (Moore is the third). There was Ripken, a Maryland sports icon, and Tom McMillen, a former congressman and slightly less iconic sports figure — though decidedly taller — a few rows ahead of him.

Jonathan Martin, an influential national political reporter at Politico, leaned against a lamppost.

The first dignitaries to walk on stage were Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), and his predecessor, Brian Frosh (D). Frosh eventually could be seen off the stage and standing a few steps from the State House basement entrance — a testament, perhaps, to some of the confusion about who was supposed to be onstage. Susan Lee, Moore’s newly minted secretary of State, walked onto the stage, was later seen on the street near Frosh, and later made it back to the stage, albeit standing in the back rather than in a seat.

Eventually, every former living governor and lieutenant governor made it to the stage, often in the company of their spouses. Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) stumbled on the stairs and appeared to be caught by a military officer and stabilized by former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), her rival in the 2002 general election.

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) embraced. Outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his predecessor, former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), remained conspicuously on either side of the stage, their longtime feud still very much a thing of the present.

“It’s a new day,” O’Malley later told a reporter.

Soon the stage filled up with county executives, legislative leaders, Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D) and members of the state’s congressional delegation. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) took a selfie.

“BUCKEL!” a Republican legislator yelled, acknowledging the presence onstage of House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany).

Then the biggest celebrities assembled, including Chelsea Clinton, whose presence was never acknowledged publicly or explained, though she is part of the same New York philanthropical world where Moore worked for several years. And then there was Oprah.

The Divine Ms. W, whose singular career was launched at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, introduced Moore, emphasizing his lifelong commitment to service.

“The man has worn many hats,” she said, “but the work he’s always done — that’s never changed. This might be his first day as an elected official, but Wes Moore has been a public servant his entire adult life. And there’s more to come!”

Moore’s 20-minute speech followed, full of the same kind of soaring rhetoric he displayed on the campaign trail. The crowd largely went away happy. But the happiest were those who happened to have an encounter with Oprah.

“Oh my God, she was very gracious,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles (D), one of the lucky few. “She grabbed my arm.”