ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore was sworn in as the state’s first Black governor on Wednesday, pledging to work for greater inclusion and economic equity while also focusing on improving education, fighting crime and climate change.
Moore, after being introduced by Oprah Winfrey in front of the Maryland State House, noted that the state is one of the wealthiest in the nation, but he also described it as “asset-rich and strategy poor.”
“It is time for our policies to be as bold as our aspirations — and to confront the fact that we have been offered false choices,” Moore said. “We do not have to choose between a competitive economy and an equitable one.”
The 44-year-old Democrat, who won in a landslide in November, also committed to fighting violent crime. Many Maryland residents have grown weary in their faith in government’s ability to keep them safe, he said.
In Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, homicides surpassed 300 for the eighth year running last year. Gun violence remains high, despite repeated promises from elected officials and new anti-violence initiatives.
Moore said the state can build a police force “that moves with appropriate intensity and absolute integrity and full accountability, and embrace the fact that we cannot and will not militarize ourselves to safety.”
“We do not have to choose between being a safe state and a just one,” Moore said. “Maryland can, and we will, be both.”
Moore, who has not held public office before now, won a crowded Democratic primary in July before going on to win the general election by more than 30 percentage points against Republican Dan Cox, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Moore is a best-selling author and former CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty nonprofit. He also is a Rhodes scholar and a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan.
“This might be his first day as an elected official, but Wes Moore has been a public servant his entire adult life,” Winfrey said. “And there’s so much more to come. He’s just getting started.”
Moore pledged to make the state a leader in addressing the “existential threat” of climate change, which said “is happening now in our communities.”
“Confronting climate change represents another chance for Maryland to lead,” Moore said. “We can and we will be a leader in wind technology, in grid electrification, and clean transit.”
Speaking not far from the nation’s largest estuary, Moore said the state will protect “our jewel,” the Chesapeake Bay, and put Maryland on track to generate “100% clean energy by 2035 and create thousands of jobs in the process.”
The new governor also emphasized his commitment to education, including a state initiative through which high school graduates can volunteer for a year of service.
Moore punctuated his inauguration with references to Black history, beginning with the enslaved people who once arrived by ship at the Annapolis City Dock, which was once a regional slave port and the site of a memorial to enslaved African Kunta Kinte, who arrived there in 1767 and was written about in Alex Haley’s book “Roots.”
Moore was joined by other Black leaders at the wreath-laying ceremony on a bright sunny morning, including Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Attorney General Anthony Brown, former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was the nation’s second elected Black governor, in 2006. Virginia’s Douglas Wilder was the first, in 1989, and Moore is the third.
“I feel lifted up and encouraged that Black talent has been recognized and has an opportunity to come forward,” Patrick told The Associated Press after the ceremony.
Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was Maryland’s first Black candidate elected statewide, called it an exciting day for the state.
“It’s interesting to watch these things unfold in a world in which there’s still resistance to it, but we’re excited here in Maryland and I’m honored to be a part of it today and be a part of that line as well,” Steele said while walking in a procession up the city’s Main Street.
Moore took the oath of office using a Bible owned by Frederick Douglass, a Marylander who escaped slavery on the state’s Eastern Shore before becoming an author and famed abolitionist.
When Moore gave his inaugural speech as Maryland’s 63rd governor, he looked out on a crowded mall in front of the Capitol where there is a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native and the nation’s first Black member of the court.
Moore’s running mate, Aruna Miller, also made history as the first immigrant and first Asian American elected statewide in Maryland.