After 8 years, Baltimore hoping to have a reliable ally in Annapolis with Democrat Wes Moore as governor
Since the start of his campaign, Gov.-elect Wes Moore has stood firm in his call to be a partner to Baltimore as he prepares to move from his adopted home to the state capital early next year.
If Democrats statewide relish having one of their own occupying the state’s most powerful office after eight years of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimoreans in particular see an advantage in having a governor from their city.
Moore, 44, was the only Baltimore resident in this year’s nine-person Democratic gubernatorial field. His victory in the general election set the stage for the first Baltimore governor since Martin O’Malley left the office in 2015.
“It’s important that people understand that the job of the governor is not to run the city of Baltimore. But it’s also important for the governor to be a partner to the city of Baltimore,” Moore, a resident of the city’s affluent Guilford neighborhood, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
“And that’s what Baltimoreans can and should expect — that as governor, I’m a person who knows and understands Baltimore because I’m a proud Baltimorean. I know its challenges and I know its promise.”
Moore, who was born in Montgomery County and spent much of his childhood in New York, will move to the governor’s mansion in Annapolis with his wife and their two children as his four-year term starts in January.
Maryland Democrats in key leadership positions, like House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County, Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore and former U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, took notice of Moore early, endorsing him even as he faced an uphill battle in the crowded field ahead of July’s primary.
An early standout
“We had conversations before the primary — before I had endorsed him — sort of understanding the kind of vision that he had,” said Ferguson, who represents neighborhoods in South Baltimore. “We lead separate branches of government, but Wes comes in with big ideas and a vision for a more inclusive state that expands opportunity to more people.”
Baltimore leaders past and present are hopeful Moore can usher in better cooperation between the city and Annapolis. Hogan has butted heads with Baltimore mayors during his tenure, beginning in his early days, when he called in the Maryland National Guard in response to unrest over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray of injuries suffered during his arrest by city police.
In his 2020 memoir, Hogan characterized his actions as a necessity in the absence of strong leadership from Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The governor touted that response again as recently as Wednesday, when a video compilation of his time in office played at a fundraising rally for a possible White House run.
“We were going to keep the people of Baltimore safe,” Hogan declares in the video, “and we were going to return calm and law and order to the city.”
Just months after calling in the guard, Hogan ruffled city feathers again, tweeting a map of transportation projects across Maryland that omitted the city and made where the city lies appear to be part of the Chesapeake Bay. The tweet was quickly deleted, but the incident was not lost on City Hall.
Kaliope Parthemos, Rawlings-Blake’s chief of staff, said Wednesday Hogan’s attitude toward the city was palpable.
“You could feel the disdain,” she said. “It’s extremely important we have a governor who looks at Maryland as a whole and will include Baltimore City as part of that.”
The give-and-take between Hogan and Baltimore has continued into the administration of Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott. The pair have traded barbs — Hogan targeting Scott for his goal of reducing spending on police and Scott needling Hogan for refusing to offer “meaningful” assistance and for eliminating funding for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council , a group of city, state and federal officials that discusses public safety strategies.
Asked about the relationship, Hogan communications director Michael Ricci said in a statement: “No administration has been a more active partner in providing support and resources to Baltimore. That commitment never wavered over the course of four mayors and five police commissioners, even in the face of obstruction on serious issues — particularly with regards to holding violent offenders accountable.
“People try to make this about personalities,” Ricci wrote, “but it’s important to not allow politics to get in the way of getting things done.”
His four-page document cited Hogan administration efforts to help the city with crime, criminal justice reform, economic revitalization, education, health care, housing, tourism, transportation and youth.
Thinking about Moore, Scott said he looks forward to a governor who believes in Baltimore.
“We can raise our entire state and city up, but doing it in a way where it’s not just about talking points, wagging a finger or coming in on a white horse, but working in deep partnership each and every day,” Scott said.
Scott joined City Hall as a staffer in 2007, when then-Mayor O’Malley took the governor’s seat. Scott said having a governor with a direct connection to Baltimore cannot be underestimated.
“You can’t escape what that means,” Scott said. “The understanding of the city’s issues, the understanding of the city’s people, what actually happened versus what folks are saying on the TV.”
Anticipating an ‘aspirational’ approach
Parthemos said she expects Moore to bring a different approach to the governor’s office. Moore comes from a background in finance and foundations. He’ll likely surround himself with people who have an “aspirational” view of government, she said.
Parthemos said she anticipates Moore will recognize the importance of Baltimore without singling the city out for favors.
“It doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t be held accountable,” she said. “But you have to come from a starting place of, ‘Look, I am here to help you, I am here to support you, and I know that my help and support will do nothing but improve your condition.’”
As governor, of course, Moore will be responsible for the entire state, and plenty of people will be looking for help, from the tip of the Eastern Shore to the western panhandle to the populous political power centers of Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Republican Del. Jason Buckel of Allegany County, the minority leader in the Maryland House chamber, said Moore needs a willingness to upend the status quo.
“I hope that Gov.-elect Moore will recognize that two of Baltimore City’s biggest obstacles to growth and renewed prosperity are the terrible level of crime, including serious violent crime, and the school system that far too often has failed the children and families. Baltimore has seen at least 300 homicides a year for eight consecutive years.
“Marylanders across the state want to see Baltimore City succeed. I lived or worked there for almost a decade — I want to see it succeed. The status quo mixed with ‘more money’ isn’t the solution,” Buckel said.
Moore said he plans to work with city officials to prioritize “certain challenges that the city is seeing” regarding transit, issues within the public school system, economic growth and concerns about public safety. For instance, Moore has committed to re-establishing the red line light rail project in the city, scrapped by Hogan in 2015.
“If we can do those things in partnership, I know that it’s not just that Baltimore’s best days are ahead, but … Maryland’s best days are ahead, as well,” he said.
Moore, a former White House fellow during the Bush administration, has found common ground with state and federal leaders, including Democratic President Joe Biden, who appeared with him twice on the campaign trail.
Moore said his “strong relationship with members of the Biden administration” and partnership with the federal government will help as he works to improve Maryland schools, transportation and infrastructure.
As Democratic lawmakers look forward to an ally
Members of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, which will convene for its 90-day legislative session a week ahead of his Jan. 18 inauguration, also are looking forward to having an ally in Moore.
Sen. Jill Carter, a Democrat representing portions of Northwest Baltimore, said Moore has made clear he is committed to the city’s economic development and improvements to its transportation and criminal justice systems.
“Wes Moore wants to lift people up instead of lock people up,” Carter said.
Moore campaigned in part on offering a publicly funded year-of-service option for high school seniors without post-graduation plans. Ferguson said the General Assembly has arranged for the Maryland Corps program to provide service opportunities and scholarships for Marylanders aged 17 to 23.
Beyond the proposed service year, Ferguson said that equitable transportation, expanded mental health care and filling staffing shortages among state government agencies are at the top of his list as he collaborates with Moore over the next term.
Ultimately, Ferguson believes that city and state leaders will have “greater collaboration” with the Moore administration in addressing issues residents face and “efforts of revitalization” in Baltimore.
“There will be a willingness to support and lead where it makes sense, and there’s a lot of state assets and state resources that exist inside the city,” he said. “A lot of the time I think the city [under Hogan] was a bit more of an afterthought or seen as a problem as opposed to … being this incredible asset for the state of Maryland — that, in order for the state to thrive, the city has to thrive.”
Moore new to public office
Moore, an author, former nonprofit CEO and combat veteran, has never served in public office. Regardless, he has the benefit of learning from fellow Democrats with executive experience at the state and city levels.
In forming his team, Moore has tapped some people closely affiliated with the O’Malley administration, including Helene Grady, the wife of O’Malley’s former chief of staff, to serve in key positions. Moore says he also has been in conversation with former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening and with former Lt. Gov Michael Steele, an anti-Trump Republican, about what to expect as he takes office.
Moore also got advice from Hogan, who told the reporters shortly after Election Day that he and Moore are committed to ensuring “not only … the peaceful transition of power,” but also that the incoming governor and his transition team are “up to speed with whatever information they want.”
“I told him I’m a phone call away,” Hogan said in a joint appearance in Annapolis with Moore last month. “I gave him my personal cellphone number.”