From City Hall intern to Democratic nominee, Wes Moore has former mayor Schmoke behind him

A photo behind Wes Moore's desk reminds him of where he started in politics, at a moment when his boss was consumed by the problem of public safety in Baltimore.

The photo of Moore with Kurt Schmoke is much more than a reminder.

In one way, it points to progress: Schmoke was the first elected Black mayor of Baltimore, and Moore could become the first Black governor of Maryland. In another way, the image underscores a challenge that whomever the next governor is will face come January.

With Maryland's largest city registering over 300 homicides each of the last seven years since Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took office, Moore said he'd prioritize public safety by hiring more parole officers and using state resources to help solve crime.

“Mayor Schmoke was wrestling with this issue of public safety back when I interned for him,” he said in an August interview. “So I’m taking a sense of context, but I’m also taking a sense of urgency into this moment and into Annapolis.”

To face that challenge, Moore will need electoral victory in November first, over Republican nominee Del. Dan Cox of Frederick County. With over twice as many registered Democrats in Maryland as Republicans, Moore could cruise to victory in November with support from Democratic strongholds like Baltimore and the Washington, D.C.-suburbs.

But statewide governance will require a different road to success, said Carin Robinson, an associate professor of political science at Hood College in Frederick.

"The (Moore campaign) would be wise to pursue votes across the state and they'll likely encounter the diversity that does exist here," Robinson said. "These distinct pockets of conservative voters have concerns that at the state level don't need to be partisan."

How Moore's influence is echoed by Baltimore

But to understand Moore, examining the image behind him indicates where in government he started and where, if given the opportunity, he hopes to take the state next.

The black-and-white image from 1999 portrays a different moment in the state’s history. Native son of Baltimore, Ivy League-educated lawyer Kurt Schmoke, finishing up his third term, points to a photo of his Rhodes Scholar class on the wall in his office.

An award bestowed to Schmoke from the since-renamed Western Maryland College, where the city’s recently returned professional football team, the Ravens, once held summer practice, sits on the shelf in the background.

And Moore, a young second lieutenant in the Army reserve, clad in a suit and sporting a low taper haircut, looks on attentively.

“I was pointing to the picture and explaining why he should apply for a Rhodes Scholarship,” said Schmoke, in an August interview. “It just so happened that the photographer from City Hall was there at the time and took that picture.”

The moment came at the end of the internship. Moore spends a handful of pages in his book, "The Other Wes Moore," describing the meeting, primarily as way to preface his time spent abroad. His selection as a Rhodes Scholar followed, which he finished in 2004 with an advanced degree in international relations.

The internship, at the end of the 1990s, also gave Moore the chance "to see the service-delivery side of government," Schmoke said.

But Moore's takeaway was simple, and it's captured in the photograph.

“Without Mayor Schmoke, there’s no Rhodes Scholarship for me.”

Moore went on to graduate from Hopkins and Oxford, deploy to Afghanistan, and work as a White House Fellow to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administration before becoming the CEO of an anti-poverty organization.

The nominee plans to focus on public safety and education

Moore said a priority would be filling the more than 100 vacancies in the state's division of parole and probation, charged with supervising parolees, estimating about a third of violent crime comes from those violating parole and probation.

He also supports the funding of violence interruption programs, and would consider using state assets to help homicide detectives in Baltimore City close more cases.

"You could take state resources and put them on loan to the city of Baltimore," he said, "and immediately help to decrease the workload, increase the closure rate, and make the communities more safe."

Schmoke, president of the University of Baltimore since 2014, pointed to improving transportation and education as two keys for the city. He sees a different generation in leadership now in Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, and, if elected, Moore.

In contrast with Schmoke’s generation, which can recall the city’s unrest after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, all three can recall Baltimore in 2015 in the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death following time in police custody.

“They see eye-to-eye on many issues,” said the city’s mayor from 1987 to 1999, “I believe that they will work together to bring about real progress, to the city and the state.”

'That experience did as much to shape my future …'

Moore saidhis campaign mantra of “Leave no one behind” is how he plans to lead the entire state as governor. His internship with Mayor Schmoke provided not only his first foray into government, but also serves as the basis for one of his statewide policy proposals — volunteer service programs.

“We are going to be the state that's going to bring a service-year option for every single high school graduate,” said Moore, at the rally on Aug. 25 in his remarks before the president spoke.

Other Democratic candidates for governor called for a statewide tutoring corps to address COVID-related learning loss at an estimated price tag of $200 million. Moore wants to expand the service-year option into not just education, but into housing and environmental programs too.

His personal foundation for such a proposal: the internship in Mayor Schmoke’s office.

“That experience did as much to shape my future as any class that I took in college,” he said, in the interview. “I want to be able to provide that same type of opportunity to young people.”

Moore has a chance to make history as Maryland's first Black governor

There have only been two elected African American governors in United States history since Reconstruction — the period following the Civil War. There are currently no African American governors nationwide, though four others are on the ballot this fall.

Hogan defeated former NAACP President Ben Jealous in 2018 and then-Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown in 2014. (Brown, now a U.S. Congressman and the Democratic Party's nominee for attorney general, would also make history, if elected, as the first African American in the state's history to hold the post of the state's chief legal officer.)

Moore said he feels and appreciates the weight of history and those who came before, but it's not his motivation.

“I’m not running for governor to make history, I’m running because I’m focused on making child poverty history," said Moore, listing a number of other issues he'd like to tackle as governor.

Joanne Kess, Schmoke’s personal secretary, said Moore saw the operation of Schmoke's City Hall office and “absorbed it like a sponge.”

Wendell Sutton, the mayor’s assistant for administrative and fiscal affairs, said Moore saw the situations the mayor had to handle and the integrity of the mayor.

“That is (Schmoke’s) influence,” said Sutton, who supervised the Hopkins student during the internship. “That is a great indication … of how (Moore) will be as a governor,”

Moore noted the former mayor’s integrity and example as well.

“You can’t point you towards a single major scandal that took place in a Schmoke administration,” he said of his old boss. “Being able to see the inner workings of how municipal government works for a place that I very proudly called home, and I still to this day proudly call home, was important.

“I’m very clear that you can’t have a thriving Maryland if you have an unhealthy Baltimore. And I don’t just say that because I’m Baltimorean, I say that because I’m very good at math."

With a little less than 10 percent of the state's population living in Baltimore, according to Census Bureau data, Moore knows where he started as an intern is key for the state's success.

“You need for the state’s largest city to be thriving in order for the state to be thriving.”

Dwight A. Weingarten is an investigative reporter, covering the Maryland State House and state issues. He can be reached at dweingarten@gannett.com or on Twitter at @DwightWeingart2.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: MD governor candidate Wes Moore has Kurt Schmoke behind him