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Who is Maryland Governor Wes Moore?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Maryland, a complicated and dangerous cleanup effort is getting started after the collapse of Baltimore's Key Bridge on Tuesday. The tragedy has put the state's young Democratic Governor, Wes Moore, in the spotlight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WES MOORE: Baltimore is being tested right now, but Baltimore has been tested before. And every time, we stand up on two feet, we dust ourselves off and we keep moving forward.

CHANG: Moore, speaking there at one of many press conferences this week, is 45 years old and Maryland's first Black governor. To join us for more is reporter Jacob Fenston. Hi, Jacob.

JACOB FENSTON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So Moore is also pretty new to politics, right?

FENSTON: Yeah, he's very new. Moore has been in office just a little over a year, and he's also been in politics a little over a year. He's one of those people, though, that you look at their resume, and it makes you feel like you've done absolutely nothing in life.

CHANG: (Laughter).

FENSTON: He was a college football star, a Rhodes scholar...

CHANG: Wow.

FENSTON: ...A bestselling author, army captain in Afghanistan, investment banker. Most recently, he was the CEO of a major anti-poverty nonprofit. But yeah, as you said, Moore is Maryland's first Black governor. Nationwide, he's only the third Black person to be elected governor of any state. You know, and he came into office with some star power behind him. He's friends with Oprah. She helped him campaign and raise money nationally. And that's, you know, pretty unusual in Maryland.

CHANG: It's pretty unusual anywhere, I suppose, to have Oprah on your campaign. Well, how would you characterize the way Moore has handled the Key Bridge disaster so far?

FENSTON: You know, he's started using this phrase - he said it during the first press conference after the collapse, when things were really still uncertain and scary - he said, we're Maryland tough and Baltimore strong. And that's really caught on. President Biden repeated it. Now there's people selling T-shirts with the slogan on it. So I think that's an example of his ability to, you know, be a good communicator and to really just kind of speak to the moment. And he's been very present. He's been meeting with families, meeting with first responders. I talked to Kaye Wise Whitehead. She's a professor of African American studies at Baltimore's Loyola University. She said this tragedy has been a moment for Moore to really rise to the occasion.

KAYE WISE WHITEHEAD: As he's laying down this groundwork and he is responding in the right way, this is what people will remember. And I ultimately think it's going to help him as he makes the next step, which I believe that he will and I hope that he will - make the next step from being this kind of statewide political leader to running for national office.

CHANG: Running for national office - how serious of a possibility is that, you think?

FENSTON: You know, it's almost hard not to compare Westmore to Barack Obama. They have all these parallels in their personal stories. So even before Moore was inaugurated as governor, people were talking about the possibility of a run for president someday. I talked to Matthew Crenson. He's a longtime Maryland political observer and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. He had some words of caution about this.

MATTHEW CRENSON: It's easy to oversell somebody like that. From the outside, they look perfect. Once they get in office, they have to face a lot of messy issues that will sort of spatter them with mud.

FENSTON: So there is some real political peril here.

CHANG: Yeah.

FENSTON: You know, if it takes forever to clear the wreckage and reopen the shipping channel, thousands of people's livelihoods are at stake. The state economy could suffer, and Moore could get a lot of that blame. He's already facing multibillion-dollar budget deficits in the state in the coming years, so, you know, all of this has the potential to get in the way of campaign promises. You know, those include fighting poverty, fighting crime and building more affordable housing around the state.

CHANG: Not an easy task. That is reporter Jacob Fenston. Thank you so much, Jacob.

FENSTON: Thank you, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jacob Fenston
Jacob Fenston is WAMU’s environment reporter. In prior roles at WAMU, he was the founding producer of The Big Listen, interim managing producer of Metro Connection, and a news editor. His work has appeared on many national programs and has been recognized by regional and national awards. More importantly, his reporting has taken him and his microphone deep into muddy banks of the Anacostia River, into an enormous sewage tunnel, and hunting rats in infested alleys. His best story ever (as determined by himself) did not win any awards, even though it required recording audio while riding a bicycle the wrong way down the busy streets of Oakland, Calif.Before coming to WAMU, Fenston was a reporter at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering issues of health, wealth and poverty in the rural Midwest. In a previous life, he was a stage manager for a theater company in Portland, Oregon. While in Oregon, he got his start in radio, as a volunteer at community radio station KBOO. Fenston is a native of the great state of California, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Reed College and master’s degree in journalism from U.C. Berkeley.