While the Alexandria City Council worked through a lengthy agenda recently some of the council staff huddled in small knots at the back of the chamber reading a 19-page pamphlet that was a collection of ballad-like verses and poems.
The material had been published a few days earlier by "The Friends of Jim Moran," and it was the latest evidence that James P. Moran, the city's former vice mayor, may yet reenter the city's Democratic politics, perhaps as a candidate for mayor.
In most communities Moran's nolo contendere plea to a conflict-of-interest charge coupled with his resignation from the City Council would be enough to end most political careers. But since he left office in June, 39-year-old Moran has kept his options open in spite of the disclosure of his ties to developers, all to the consternation of many Alexandria Democrats.
They openly express fears that if Moran enters the spring elections, particularly against his one-time mentor, Mayor Charles E. Beatley, the result will damage the party, which now holds a narrow majority of 4-to-3 in the City Council, and perhaps allow a Republican to win the city's top office. Beatley, now serving his 15th year as mayor,dismisses Moran's chances, saying "he'd be demolished" in a race.
Others -- including Moran -- are not so certain. Running for the council "would be the most logical thing to do," Moran said in a recent interview. He said he won't make a decision on whether to run until December and he does not shut out the possiblity of challenging Beatley, whom he privately berates for acting like "numero uno member of the council rather than acting as first among equals."
Moran, who works as a stockbroker and hosts a weekly talk show on Alexandria cable television, has done nothing to discourage the activities of "Friends of Jim Moran," the group of friends and supporters urging him to return to public life.
A recent party they staged drew about 100 people and the group has collected about $3,000 since last July, according to treasurer Kenneth Labowitz. "What was clear was we could raise much more," said Labowitz," but this is not a campaign."
Moran also has won sympathy from the city Democrats, who in July voted to return him to the party's city committee. Moran is also serving as finance chairman for the Mondale-Ferraro campaign in Virginia's 8th Congressional District.
A number of Democrats, including some of his former supporters, are distancing themselves from the effort to rebuild the image of the handsome Irish Catholic politican who was once seen as Alexandria's rising Democratic star.
"Even though I consider myself a friend of Moran I don't think this exercise is in his best interest," said Judith Feaver, a former school board chairman and manager of Moran's first council campaign.
Feaver rejected overtures to join the Friends of Jim Moran. "I think it would be healthier for Jim and any future political career he might have to let this issue die out for a year or two."
"This is not a Democratic Party activity," said Joann Miller, chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. "I have not even been contacted."
Republican Robert L. Calhoun, elected in August to fill the City Council vacancy created by Moran's resignation, is widely expected to be the Republican candidate for mayor this spring. He says Moran "has been punished enough in his public career and we should let the people of the city judge him on his merits."
Even Moran acknowledges that a challenge to Beatley, who has already declared his candidacy, would "be destructive to the Democratic Party and it would be divisive in the community at large. And I have to make sure I'm not putting my own ambitions ahead of what is in the best interests of the city."
The money raised by "Friends," a registered political action committee, will pay for a mass mailing of a letter in which Moran says he wants to give a greater explantion of what led to his resignation.
He was vague about what he would say in the letter and said it won't be mailed after the Nov. 6 presidential elections. It will include "details that put a different light on the charges" against him, Moran said.
"It's upsetting for people to think you didsomething improper with city funds or the trust bestowed on you. I know I never compromised that trust," he said. "I guess the best way to prove that is to show I can be an honest, effective public servant . . . to ask people to give me another chance," he said.
Democratic Party Chairman Miller said she could not predict Moran's future. "We've seen too many resurrections in Alexandria."