Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. charged yesterday that Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) is racist, but immediately distanced himself from a subject he called "much too personal to be appropriate for a congressional campaign."
Moran, a Democrat waging an already bitter battle against Parris, said his opponent "has a tendency to make unfortunate racial statements because he doesn't know any better." Moran charged that, six years ago, Parris said that any white woman raped by a black man should be allowed to have an abortion.
Parris vehemently denied making the statement and accused Moran of engaging in "racial McCarthyism . . . . He thinks he can say anything to get a few votes." Parris called Moran's charge "an absolute, total fabrication by people who are prejudiced" against him.
Moran's charge is based on the accounts of two women's rights activists, who say Parris made the remark in a private meeting with them. Moran first attributed the remark to Parris in a cable television interview that was taped last week, but has not been telecast.
Although Moran said yesterday he believes Parris made the statement, he was already backing away from the subject, saying he regrets discussing it. "I am very sorry this is becoming an issue," Moran said.
Moran's conflicting remarks regarding Parris's racial attitudes intensified an already nasty race in which each man has attacked the other on the stump and in sharp television commercials. On several previous occasions, both Parris and Moran have made statements they later retracted or modified or for which they apologized.
The two are vying in the Nov. 6 election to represent Northern Virginia's 8th District, which includes Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County.
Moran first raised the issue of Parris's racial attitudes in the spring when he decided to challenge Parris, saying in an interview, "I know he's racist, and I know he's sexist." He did not raise the issue again until last week, when he taped a cable television interview for a Northern Virginia Community College public affairs program. College officials have decided not to air the interview, saying Parris did not have a chance to respond to the charges.
In that interview and again yesterday, Moran accused Parris of making the disputed remark concerning race, rape and abortion. Moran was not present when the statement was allegedly made, but was told about it by two women who said they were.
The women are Marianne Fowler and Katherine East, both of Northern Virginia. Both are abortion-rights activists who have opposed Parris previously. Fowler said in a recent interview that she is supporting Moran this year; East does not live in the 8th District and is not actively supporting a candidate.
Both East and Fowler said they met with Parris in 1984 as representatives of the Virginia chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus, which later endorsed Parris's opponent. Fowler recalls that during a discussion of abortion, Parris said, "If a white woman is raped by a black man, God just didn't intend for her to carry that child." East's recollection is similar, but the wording varies slightly.
Fowler and East have no written or taped record of the meeting. A third Northern Virginia woman who was present, Kathy Wilson, declined to comment.
Parris strongly questioned the credibility of Fowler and East yesterday. "Why in six years has this never been mentioned before?" Parris asked. "Why has it never come up in past elections?"
He also questioned Moran's personal integrity, returning to one of his campaign themes: Moran's conviction on a conflict of interest charge in the early 1980s. He said Moran's tactics are "the worst I've ever seen or heard of . . . . "
Moran also cited other factors to bolster his charge of racism, including Parris's record of high-profile opposition to the District of Columbia government in the House and a racial joke that Parris told in 1971. Parris has repeatedly apologized for the joke.