A heated race in Alexandria to choose the city's chief prosecutor in next fall's election may turn on a man who isn't running for office.
The man is William L. Cowhig, the once-popular Democrat with close ties to the city's legal establishment who quit as prosecutor Feb. 23 after he was acquitted in two jury trials of bribery and gambling charges.
"People say the cesspool has overflowed from Washington, and Alexandria has become the laughingstock of Virginia," said Ken Foran, an attorney who is making Cowhig and the scandal that swirled around him a main theme of his compaign to win the Republican primary on June 12.
Foran's only Republican opponent, lawyer Barry Poretz, also has seized on the Cowhig controversy, offering himself as "someone who can restore credibility and integrity" to the office.
Faced with defending his own ties to Cowhig is incumbent John E. Kloch, 38, Cowhig's former deputy and the man who took over the embattled prosecutor's office when Cowhig quit.
"I am qualified, I know how to run the office, and the voters know how I stand in times of crisis," said Klock, who will run as the Democratic candidate for the $42,5000 job next November. "I am prepared to answer any questions anyone has. I have nothing to hide."
Specifically, Kloch has emphasized to reporters that he was the one who reported allegations of sexual misconduct by Cowhig to the city's senior Circuit Court judge last January.
A special prosecutor, appointed as a result, announced last week that he had found insufficient evidence to seek Cowhig's indictment. The allegations are now under scrutiny by a state bar grievance committee.
Both the primary andthe general elections are seen as a test of voter sentiment toward the city's political establishment, which was rocked during the last year by the controversy involving Cowhig.
The elections also are expected to be antother test of the growing strength of the Republican party organization in the city. The party earlier this month managed to elect the top three finishers in the hotly-contested six-member city council race. A fourth Republican candidate lost by only 410 votes out of a total of 18,000 cast.
Foran, 37, a former law professor at the University of Richmond who moved to Alexandria in 1976, acknowledged in an interview that he is an "outsider, but I think that will be a help. If we are going to make a change then it must be a clean change, We must have a Republican, clearly a Republican, and someone who is not a member of the establishment."
Foran, who has been active in local party activities, joined the Virginia State Bar April 16, three days after he filed as a candidate for commonwealth's attorney. Bar membership is required to practice law in the state, either as a prosecutor or in private.
Although some Poretz supporters have pointed to this as further evidence of Foran's outsider status, Foran called his bar membership a "formality." His previous legal experience was in the Marine Corps, Foran noted.
In contrast, Poretz, 35, has not been a party activist and is regarded as an unknown by some GOP regulars. He has practiced law in Alexandria for 10 years, including a one-year stint as an assistant prosecutor under Cowhig's predecessor, John Keenahan.
If elected, Foran said he would establish panels of citizens to advise him on community concerns, and work on the state level to see mandatory sentences imposed for certain crimes. Poretz said he would seek to make investigators a permanent part of the office (work now done by the police department), and work to cut juvenile crime.