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 easily beat the Republican challenger in the general election to become mayor, and then ascended to the state Assembly the following year, despite his seeming lack of experience in the bareknuckle world of South Jersey politics.
Moriarty had been a consumer reporter for CBS-3 in Philadelphia, so even though he was a political newcomer, his on-air image was well known to South Jersey voters.
Now, and refusal to submit to a breath test.
Even if he’s not convicted, could haunt his political career for years, said one former state assemblyman who also faced a DWI charge while in 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 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 told Patch Wednesday.
He said the charge is “definitely going to be there as a thorn in [Moriarty's] side.
"There’s no getting around it,” Altamuro said.
Despite the ensuing backlash, Altamuro continued a public-service career and is now the president of the Washington Township school board.
Moriarty didn't seek a second mayoral term in Washington Township, but he is a four-term Democratic assemblyman who'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 less than 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,” he said.