Path leads city man to halls of power

Banker, 27, named White House fellow

July 03, 2006|By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS | JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Westley Moore's path to the White House fellowship started with a map to nowhere.

Yanked from a New York City private school to shape up at a military academy he hated, the chronically rowdy 13-year- old was determined to make his escape.

But after a fellow student's fake getaway map thwarted his plans and a telephoned pep talk from his mother set him straight, Moore got serious. It was the turning point that the 27-year-old investment banker and Baltimore native credits with his selection this year for one of the nation's most prestigious public service programs.

"I know I want to make a difference, and I know I want to come up with real solutions," said Moore, who was by turns bubbly and serious as he discussed his aspirations over a recent lunch at a restaurant near the White House.

Moore - 6-foot-3, with an athletic build and a shaved head - is irrepressibly idealistic and constantly smiling.

"My goal isn't to win; my goal is to change things," said Moore, who has dreamed of being governor of Maryland.

Nicknamed "Mr. President" as a teenager, Moore is the youngest of 14 people selected for a White House fellowship this year. The nonpartisan program, launched by Lyndon B. Johnson and designed to inspire young leaders to civic involvement, dispatches overachievers to serve for a year in top posts in the White House and federal agencies.

Moore already has the makings of a smooth politician, complete with deftly delivered inspirational mantras - "Service is what I'm about," he says - and ready expressions of humility.

"If I'm blessed, and the people decide to put me in office to make decisions, you just want to make sure you're as qualified and as competent as possible," he said.

His fiancee, Dawn Flythe, is in the business, as an aide to Del. Anthony G. Brown, gubernatorial running mate of Mayor Martin O'Malley.

And Moore, who shuttles between his weekday job at Deutsche Bank in Manhattan and his Federal Hill home on the weekends, is palpably ambitious.

A blend of charisma and idealism fueled his rise as he worked - and networked - his way into powerful circles. He has both battled and benefited from stereotypes; because he is black, some have assumed he fought his way out of poverty to succeed.

His mother calls those the "urban myths" about her son, who by all accounts had a difficult childhood - his father died of a rare illness when he was 3 - but also benefited from an expensive education and a stable home.

"There's a certain story that people want to tell, and there's a certain story that people like to hear," Moore said.

The hard-luck story has only contributed to an air of inevitability that seems to hang over Moore, the son of a Baltimore radio anchorman, William Westley Moore Jr., and a public affairs professional. He is regarded by an influential cast of public figures he calls friends as destined for great things.

But it wasn't always that way.

At Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, N.Y., Wes set off a smoke bomb and cut classes, falling in with mischievous friends from fancy Manhattan addresses, said his mother Joy Thomas Moore. She pulled him out of the school.

After five escape attempts in his first week at Valley Forge Military Academy, Moore buckled down. That's when he "went from a clown to a real leader," his mother said.

Moore stayed at Valley Forge through high school and a two-year associate's degree program, then transferred to the Johns Hopkins University to finish college.

He was ravenous for extra knowledge, once showing up at a Friday night service at the campus Jewish center to hear a talk on the Middle East, recalled Steven R. David, an international relations professor.

"His academic preparation wasn't as strong as some of the students we had here, but he was going to make up for that with sheer, hard work, so that's what he did," David said. "You just want to help him in any way you can, because you just know that he's going to do so well at whatever he sets his mind to doing."

Moore graduated Phi Beta Kappa and found time to play football, start a nonprofit group pairing college students with youthful offenders, and win a Rhodes scholarship. He was showered with attention, named to People magazine's list of most eligible bachelors and featured in a subsequent Sun profile that called him "smart, sweet and oh-so single."

Polite and down-to-earth, Moore has a politician's knack for avoiding controversy.

A Democrat, he gave $1,000 to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign, but resists what he calls "the label game," calling himself "probably one of the more independent people that you'll ever find."

"I have a little bit of Democrat in me, I have a little bit of Republican in me, but fundamentally, I'm me, the entire way through," Moore said.

He is similarly noncommittal about President Bush: "I sincerely believe he acts on his convictions, and whether people agree with his convictions or not is another issue," he said. "I believe in people who stand by convictions."

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