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Maryland’s Young Black Governor Under Spotlight Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Baltimore bridge collapse has put the spotlight on Maryland’s young Black governor

In Maryland, a complex and perilous cleanup operation has commenced following the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday. The calamity has thrust the state’s youthful governor, Wes Moore, into the global spotlight.

Moore, a Democrat, etched his name in history last year by assuming office as Maryland’s inaugural Black governor.

“Baltimore is currently being put to the test, but it’s faced trials before. Every time, we rise, brush off the dust, and forge ahead,” Moore declared during one of several press briefings this week. The remains of two construction workers from the bridge have been recovered, while four others remain missing and presumed deceased.

Since the Key Bridge was struck early Tuesday by a cargo ship, Moore has been tirelessly present, touring the disaster site, meeting with affected families and emergency responders, and securing federal aid.

“We embody Maryland’s resilience, and Baltimore’s fortitude,” Moore asserted on Tuesday morning, during the initial press briefing following the bridge’s collapse. Since then, the phrase has gained traction, echoed by President Joe Biden and emblazoned on T-shirts for sale.

Maryland's Young Black Governor Under Spotlight Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Maryland’s Young Black Governor Under Spotlight Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse (Credits: FOX 5 San Diego)

Kaye Wise Whitehead, a professor of communication and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, emphasizes the critical nature of tragedies and crises. “These events have the power to either uplift or undermine,” she notes. “The effectiveness of presidents and governors is frequently measured by their actions in these pivotal moments.”

At 45, Moore is only the third Black individual to ascend to the governorship of any U.S. state. Despite lacking prior political experience, Moore brought with him an extensive and illustrious background. He was a standout college football athlete, a Rhodes Scholar, a bestselling author, an Army captain deployed in Afghanistan, an investment banker, and most recently, the CEO of a prominent anti-poverty nonprofit, Robin Hood.

When Moore entered the gubernatorial race in 2022, he was polling in single digits. Yet, he went on to triumph over stalwarts of Maryland politics, including two former cabinet members from the Obama administration, a former state attorney general, and a former state comptroller.

The political novice benefited from some star power in his corner: His friendship with Oprah Winfrey aided his campaign and national fundraising efforts.

Whitehead views this week’s tragedy as an opportunity for Moore to shine. “I believe we’re witnessing the doorway opening for him to take the next step toward national politics. He will run for president. I’d be surprised if he didn’t.”

The prospect of higher office Indeed, speculation about an eventual presidential bid had been rife even before Moore’s inauguration. Many have drawn parallels between Moore and former President Barack Obama: both men share numerous personal similarities, including immigrant backgrounds, upbringing by single mothers, and rising to fame through their memoirs.

David Karol, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, observes that Moore appears to be in his element this week. “He exudes empathy and authority, which aligns with his rhetorical prowess and personality,” Karol remarks.

Maryland's Young Black Governor Under Spotlight Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Maryland’s Young Black Governor Under Spotlight Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse (Credits: The Daily Progress)

However, Karol cautions that the real challenges may surface as the months and years of cleanup and reconstruction progress. It’s unlikely that the bridge will be rebuilt before Moore faces reelection in 2026.

“The governor has sought to temper expectations. He’s acknowledged that this won’t be resolved in days or weeks. Nevertheless, it presents a significant challenge,” Karol notes.

Matthew Crenson, a seasoned observer of Maryland politics and professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, recounts advising a young Moore when the future governor was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins. Crenson recalls a specific conversation with Moore during that period.

“We discussed his political aspirations, which were yet to materialize. I suggested, like all aspiring politicians in Maryland, he should run for the House of Delegates. He declined, expressing a preference for an executive role. And indeed, that’s precisely what he secured right off the bat.”

However, regarding comparisons between President Obama and Moore’s potential presidential trajectory, Crenson urges caution.

“It’s easy to overhype someone like that because, from the outside, they appear flawless. Once they assume office, they must confront numerous messy issues that can besmirch them,” Crenson remarks.

“Thus far, he hasn’t encountered any truly devastating challenges until this one, and I believe this will be the litmus test. We’ll discover whether there’s real mettle behind that résumé.”

Simultaneously grappling with the aftermath of the bridge collapse, the governor faces multi-billion-dollar budget shortfalls in the upcoming years, potentially necessitating tax hikes in the state. All of this threatens to impede Moore’s campaign pledges, which include combating poverty and crime and expanding affordable housing statewide.

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