Debating with his fists

Congress has its share of bullies but few match the bombastic belligerence of James Moran (D-VA).

Whether it’s attacking other members of Congress on the floor of the House or his wife, Moran is a man who believes in debating with his fists.

Moran was an amateur boxer in his youth and told Washingtonian Magazine that had he not become a politician, he might have tried professional boxing because “I like to hit people.”

That’s why residents of the prosperous Del Rey area of Alexandria weren’t surprised back in the 1990s when police cars showed up at the home of Moran and his wife. It happened a lot.

“There was always a lot of screaming going on there,” said one neighbor. “They fought like cats and dogs.”

Mary Moran told the Alexandria police her husband was attacking her.
The police came, talked to both, and left. But Moran, a former mayor of the city, was not charged. Mary Moran finally had enough and filed for divorce, saying – among other things – that the Congressman abused her.

But the incident is just one of many violent acts in Moran’s history of bar brawls, physical assaults, threats, intimidation and even fistfights on the floor of the House of Representatives.

And he has a history of getting away with it.

Jay Armington remembers his first and only encounter with Moran, then mayor of Alexandria, in a bar near the Potomac River in 1988.

“He and another guy went from arguing to shouting to fists in just a few minutes. One of my buddies pulled the other guy away and I grabbed the mayor,” Armington recalls.

Moran, he said, wheeled around and slammed him against the bar.

“His cheeks were bulging and he was snorting like a bull,” Armington said. “I realized I was looking into the eyes of a madman.”

Arne Wilkens tended bar in Alexandria, where Moran served as mayor of the city from 1985-1990. He says the Mayor often got into fights.

“He was a bully and a thug,” Wilkens said. “We’d call the cops, but they wouldn’t do anything.”

Jonathan Schnapp, a former Alexandria resident, tried to file a criminal complaint with the Alexandria police after the Mayor threatened him following an argument outside a city council meeting.

The cops just laughed.

“They said they weren’t going to risk their jobs by trying to arrest the Mayor,” Schnapp said. Schnapp said he moved out of Alexandria because he felt both the Mayor and the police department were corrupt.

Alexandria police refuse to discuss Moran’s tenure as Mayor publicly, but several officers admitted privately that his behavior would have led to the arrest of “ordinary citizens.”

“The Mayor was clearly guilty of assault on more than one occasion,” said one officer. “But the word came down. The Mayor was off limits. Ordinary citizens go to jail. Not the Mayor.”

Winning a seat in Congress in 1990 didn’t change Moran’s violent ways. He got into more than one shoving match with other members of Congress, including Indiana Republican Dan Burton and California Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Moran, both said, threw the first punch.

Supporters of the temperamental Congressman say he is just a “typical Irish rogue,” charming one minute, belligerent the other.

“Alexandria likes rogues,” says one political supporter. “The city has a long, colorful history of flamboyant politicians.

But political opponents say Moran is a “violent man, a time bomb who is always ticking and ready to go off.”

“He’s always boiling,” says Sam Asrets, a former Alexandria activist who opposed Moran on many issues during his term as mayor.

“He knows he can get away with this because there’s never any accountability,” Asrets says. “He gets breaks that ordinary people don’t get. Had he learned early on that there would be punishment for his behavior, he would have been a lot better off.”

The odds are Moran won’t get such a lesson. Like many members of Congress, he believes he is above the law. So far, he has been right.