A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties

Brian Moran's Famous Brother Could Be Boon or Bane in Va.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran looms large in his younger brother Brian's attempt to jump from the state's House of Delegates to the governor's mansion in Virginia this year.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; Page A01

When Democrat Brian Moran recently assembled top elected officials in Arlington County to announce that they were endorsing him for Virginia governor, one notable figure was absent: his older brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr.

It's not that Jim Moran is supporting someone else. After representing the inner suburbs of Washington for almost two decades, he is one of his little brother's greatest political assets -- offering money, renown, a large political organization and the soft shoulder of family to lean on.

But some say Jim Moran, 63, is also a liability to his brother's statewide ambitions, bringing the baggage of a liberal voting record and a long history of impolitic behavior in a state that typically values reserve and tradition. As a result, the younger Moran enters one of the most-watched political contests in the nation this year with the tricky task of embracing his famous brother at some moments and distancing himself at others. That contradiction could become a make-or-break challenge in a tense three-way primary against former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), where the slightest boost -- or burden -- could decide the outcome.

"The only way the relationship hurts is if people make conclusions about me based on my brother's positions," Brian Moran, 49, said, noting that he and his brother have differed on a variety of issues. "I mean, I gotta win this on my own."

That has meant taking such awkward steps as not including his brother in the Arlington endorsement event. It has meant repeatedly reaching out to Jewish leaders who were outraged by Jim's remarks blaming the pro-Israel lobby for the country's war with Iraq. It has meant emphasizing his own more conservative record, including votes in favor of gun rights and the abolition of parole.

Unlike a bid for Congress, running for statewide office has always held pitfalls for Northern Virginians, who must balance the more progressive demands of the Washington suburbs with the more conservative tendencies in the rest of the state. Few Northerners have won without pledging strong support for the death penalty, gun rights and tough criminal laws -- positions that find more support outside the D.C. suburbs.

"His emphasis is on what's best for this commonwealth," said Jim Moran, who went to great lengths in an interview to distinguish his brother's record from his own. "He has a very open-minded view on cultural issues, but he respects the differences in the state."

The Moran brothers share an upbringing (and an unmistakable Massachusetts accent) straight from the pages of Irish American lore. Their grandparents met on the boat during their Atlantic crossing in 1901. They grew up in Natick, Mass., a working-class community west of Boston. The high school stadium was built by the Works Progress Administration -- an apt shrine for a family that worshiped hard work, football and the New Deal. The oldest and youngest of seven children in the spare household of a probation officer, Jim and Brian lived by this mantra: If you were old enough to ride a bike, you were old enough to earn a paycheck.

In many ways, Brian has followed that family fiat, but not always by choice. In 1973, fresh from eighth grade, Brian, just 13, was packed onto a train by his parents for Washington to spend the summer watching and learning from the Watergate hearings. He stayed in an apartment in the Normandy Hill area of Alexandria with his brother, Jim, 15 years older and working as a financial manager for the federal government.

Much later, when the Morans' father grew ill, it fell to Brian to move home and care for his parents. The experience became a source of resentment toward his older siblings, including Jim, but also a point of pride. Although compelled home by obligation, through the experience of juggling work, home duties and classes at a state college, Brian also gained a sense of identity apart from his siblings.

Brian Moran often tells a story about Thanksgiving spent with his large family. "The turkey would start out with my dad, who played football for the [Boston] Redskins," he said. "Then the turkey would be passed to Jim, who went to Holy Cross to play football. Then the turkey would be passed to John, who went to Utah State to play football. Then it would be passed to Kevin, who was a standout at the University of Massachusetts as a football player. And then it went to Paul, who played football at Boston College."

He pauses. "And then the turkey came to me." He smiles. "And you wonder why I stay thin!"

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