Cop Seeks to Take on Moran

Posted March 26, 2003 at 6:45pm

A member of the Capitol Police force has joined the ranks of Republicans exploring a bid against embattled Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is already likely to face a primary challenge in his suburban Washington district next year.

Officer Mike Riccardi said he has considered running for the seat in the past but was ultimately moved to action after the recent controversy Moran stirred with comments he made at an anti-war forum earlier this month.

“After Jim Moran’s last episode, it just told me that it was my time to rise up and lead this district, instead of dividing it,” Riccardi said. “He’s embarrassed us too many times.”

The seven-term lawmaker has faced considerable criticism from both parties and was forced to relinquish a minor leadership post after he suggested that Jewish influence was pushing the United States toward war with Iraq. He later apologized for the comments, which he said were taken out of context.

Riccardi has lived in the Northern Virginia 8th district, considered a Democratic stronghold, for nine years. While stressing that his campaign is still in its infancy, he has already assembled an exploratory committee, a group of about 15 people that includes friends, family, Hill staffers and lobbyists.

Riccardi claims to already have at least $100,000 in pledges to his campaign and said he intends to begin calling in those chits next month. He has contacted some local party officials and is in the process of trying to set up a meeting with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

By law, Riccardi is forbidden to solicit money on Capitol grounds, but there is no rule barring him from seeking elected office. Legislative branch employees are exempt from the Hatch Act, the federal law that forbids executive branch personnel from running in partisan elections.

While Moran’s most recent misstep and past ethics troubles will no doubt factor into the campaign, Riccardi also made clear that he plans to tout his police background if he runs. [IMGCAP(1)]

“Right now, being a federal law enforcement officer, one of my main concerns is strengthening America’s first responders: police, fire, EMS,” Riccardi said, noting that Arlington County, Va., fire and rescue personnel were the first to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I want people to feel safe. I think having been trained in nuclear, chemical and biological warfare, I could be that person,” he added.

Riccardi, 31, joined the Capitol Police force in mid-1998 and has worked inside the Capitol since that time. He is currently assigned to the Senate chamber, but has previously worked on individual Members’ protective details.

Prior to coming to Capitol Hill, he spent one year working on the support staff of the National Association of Police Organizations and eight months as an intern in the White House personnel security office.

His resume also includes a stint with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

While his role on Capitol Hill could lead to some uncomfortable encounters, Riccardi said he has had no personal contact with Moran beyond seeing him in the hallways.

He also stressed that his bid was not tied in any way to Moran’s role as ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, the House panel that approves Capitol Police funding.

“It’s a tough time in the world and I want somebody there that I can trust and I know that’s doing the right job,” Riccardi said of his motivations for running. “I think he’s just been beaten down too many times where his personal life is affecting political decisions.”

For his part, Moran is not directly addressing the efforts of any of his potential challengers. In a statement released by his office earlier this month, the Congressman said he is continuing to focus on serving in Congress and working on behalf of his constituents in “the greatest Congressional district any Member could ask for.”

A source close to Moran put little stock in the crop of potential opponents receiving mention, asserting that most will eventually prove to be “all hat and no cattle.”

“We’re not going to pull out the trampoline and start jumping around every time someone mentions that they’re thinking about running against Jim Moran,” the source said. “It’s just talk right now. People talk all the time. Let them talk.”

Meanwhile, a number of other Republicans are also eyeing the 8th district race, although the district has a sizeable Democratic registration advantage.

The most prominent name to be floated is that of Kyle McSlarrow, who currently serves as deputy secretary at the Energy Department.

McSlarrow ran against Moran twice in the early 1990s and went on to become a top aide to then-Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.). He became chief of staff at the Energy Department in 2001 and took his current position in November 2002.

McSlarrow did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

While he has not spoken to McSlarrow, 8th district GOP Chairman Michael Lane said his phone has been “ringing off the hook” with calls from interested potential candidates following the latest Moran dust-up.

Lane is scheduled to meet with Riccardi this weekend, making him the sixth possible candidate in the last two weeks the party chairman has interviewed.

He said the cracks in Moran’s support were evident even last cycle, asserting that the Democrat’s 59.8 percent vote tally — his lowest since 1994 — is an encouraging indicator for Republicans next year.

“That has the sharks smelling blood,” Lane said.

Moran spent $1.6 million on his last race, while his little-known opponent, Scott Tate (R), spent just $83,000 and won 37 percent of the vote.

The district was made more Democratic during the redrawing of lines in 2001. President Bush would have won 38 percent there in 2000, according to Republican estimates.

But with a battle for the Democratic nomination a forgone conclusion, Lane said the party will either face “a wounded and disliked Jim Moran” or “a damaged and bloodied Democratic alternative.”

State Sen. and former Rep. Leslie Byrne (Va.) and Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kate Hanley are among the well-known Democrats seriously weighing a challenge to Moran.

Either way, Lane and some other Republicans believe the party’s chances are greatly bolstered next year.

“I admit that the 8th is an uphill battle but if the time was ever right for a Republican, it seems that time is 2004,” Lane said.

Party operatives still acknowledge it will be tough to win the seat without a nominee who has an established profile and fundraising ability, someone who could help the party avoid a divisive primary.

“A Kyle McSlarrow or anyone else of a similar profile would very quickly be able to consolidate their support and become the designated candidate against whomever the Democrats put forward,” Lane said.

The party has had trouble recruiting viable challengers in the past. Last cycle, Republicans pinned much of their hope on longtime Northern Virginia resident Joe McCain, the brother of maverick Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Joe McCain, who has never run for public office and would have had to move into the district to run, was described by some Republicans as the party’s best hope to capture the seat, but he ultimately declined the uphill race.

“The main thing is, I think it’s just going to be too tough a district for a Republican to win in,” McCain said at the time. “And, frankly, I’m not sure I have that ultimate fire in the belly you need to go through the all those hills and valleys.”

But Lane said this week that Joe McCain is “re-evaluating” his stance on a bid.

Also, some prominent Republicans in the area are now expressing hope that Moran’s latest stumble has finally put the district in play.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the NRCC chairman for the last two cycles, said a top-tier challenger hasn’t surfaced yet, but he held out the possibility that things could be different for his neighboring-district colleague next year.

“It’s a changed situation,” Davis said. “It will probably inspire some strong challenges.”

Moran was first elected to the seat in 1990, beating then-Rep. Stan Parris (R), 52 percent to 45 percent, in a nasty campaign.

Since then, Republicans have had little success in their efforts to retire the scrappy former boxer.

In 1992, he beat McSlarrow 56 percent to 42 percent, the best performance any challenger has ever posted against the incumbent. McSlarrow ran and lost again in 1994, this time by 20 points. With the exception of last year, Moran has won re-election since then with better than 60 percent of the vote.

Assuming he runs, Riccardi has at least two role models to look to on the Hill.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was a Capitol Police officer in the early 1960s, before he entered politics and while he was attending law school at George Washington University.

William Cleveland, a veteran officer of the Capitol Police force, is a member of the Alexandria (Va.) City Council and serves as the city’s vice mayor.

Cleveland is currently the Republican candidate for mayor, in an election where two black candidates are going head to head in a city that has never elected a black mayor. The contest will be decided in May.

Cleveland also ran for Congress in 1992, but lost in the GOP primary to McSlarrow.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.