Paul Moriarty was a political newcomer when he won a landslide victory against incumbent Randee Davidson in the 2004 Democratic primary in Washington Township, Gloucester County. He then easily beat the Republican challenger in the general election to become mayor. The following year, he ascended to the state Assembly, despite his seeming lack of experience in the bare-knuckles world of South Jersey politics.
Moriarty had been a consumer reporter for CBS 3 in Philadelphia, so the political neophyte's on-air image was well known to voters in South Jersey.
Now, that image may be tarnished by charges of drunken driving and refusal to submit to a breath test.
Even if he’s not convicted, could haunt him on the political trail for years to come, said one former state assemblyman who also faced drunken-driving charges while holding public office.
Stephen Altamuro, a private attorney in Washington Township, served briefly as a Republican assemblyman in 2003, before losing his seat in the general election that year.
“It certainly doesn’t help you,” Altamuro said. “Everyone looks at you as a bad person.”
In November 2004, while a member of Washington Township Council, Altamuro was pulled over in neighboring Glassboro and charged with driving while intoxicated. Altamuro argued that he was under the legal limit at the time, and he was ultimately acquitted on the charge, but not necessarily in the court of public opinion.
“It puts a bad shadow on you,” he said. “And I’m sure there are still people out there who will make comments that I’m a lush and a drunk.”
Altamuro’s political opponents used his arrest as campaign fodder in a subsequent race.
“Even though I was found not guilty, they still ran it” as an attack ad, Altamuro said in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s definitely going to be there as a thorn in his side,” Altamuro said of the charges against Moriarty. “There’s no getting around it.”
But, the charge and ensuing backlash did not end Altamuro’s career in public service. He’s now president of the Washington Township school board.
Moriarty didn't seek a second term as Washington Township's mayor, but he is a four-term Democratic assemblyman, and he’s remained popular with voters in South Jersey’s Fourth Legislative District. In the 2011 election, he garnered 30 percent of the vote, while the top GOP candidate received just under 20 percent. He's up for re-election in November 2013.
During his time as assemblyman, Moriarty has sponsored several bills related to impaired and drunken driving. The bills include measures to impose stiffer penalties and higher fines on intoxicated drivers and establishing educational programs on impaired driving.
Patch could not reach Moriarty for comment on Wednesday.
John Weingart, associate director of the nonpartisan Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, said the charges against Moriarty won’t necessarily hurt him as a candidate next fall.
“My impression is that voters and party leaders are generally forgiving for the first offense of something like this, when nobody is hurt,” Weingart said Wednesday. “If this happens again, the repercussions could be much more serious.”