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Impeached Official Seeks Comeback

August 1, 1998

SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) _ Judith K. Moriarty-Ebers was hailed as the ``Missouri Political Miracle″ after she was the surprise winner in her low-budget bid for secretary of state in 1992.

In just over two years, the miracle became a nightmare: She became the first statewide official impeached for misconduct by the state Supreme Court. She also was convicted of backdating her son’s campaign filing paperwork while serving as Missouri’s top elections officer.

Now, after nearly four years in political purgatory, Moriarty-Ebers is trying a comeback of sorts. In Tuesday’s primary, she is seeking the Democratic nomination for recorder of deeds in Pettis County, about 60 miles east of Kansas City.

Moriarty-Ebers declined a request for an interview, telling The Associated Press: ``This is just a county office and I don’t care for a lot of statewide publicity.″

Moriarty-Ebers, found guilty of tampering with a public document, is seeking one of the most paperwork-intensive jobs in county government. Pettis County’s recorder handles 8,000 transactions a year, from deeds to marriage licenses to divorces.

She would no doubt welcome another political miracle. But for now, Moriarty-Ebers counts on hometown friends who believe the country grocer’s daughter was railroaded from office, a political death penalty far disproportionate to her crime.

Moriarty-Ebers, Pettis County’s clerk for a decade before becoming secretary of state, flirted with making an uphill bid for secretary of state in 1996. But she announced on filing’s closing day that ``now is not the right time for me.″

The right time came when Recorder of Deeds Dorothy Demand announced she would retire and endorsed her chief deputy, Janet Kresse, for the Democratic nomination.

``It wasn’t a surprise,″ Demand said of Moriarty-Ebers. ``Everyone knew she wanted to be back in politics.″

In a recent campaign letter, Moriarty-Ebers wrote, ``My supporters have encouraged me to launch a new start. ... I WANT THIS JOB!″

She also thanked supporters for their kindness through victory and impeachment. ``Without that, life for me had dark days that would have seemed hopeless. You’ve shown me `there is no future in the past,‴ Moriarty-Ebers wrote.

Moriarty-Ebers carries some heavy baggage into the race. Along with her criminal conviction and impeachment, a management review team she selected said her absences from the Statehouse were so frequent that sniping and turf battles raged among her aides.

There were less serious _ but no less embarrassing _ incidents, including her frequent use of state airplanes for quick trips home to Sedalia and a costly airbrushing of her official portrait.

Her tarnished record would seem to be a gold mine for competing candidates. But not in Sedalia, a friendly community of about 20,000 that is home to the Missouri State Fair.

``The voters know all of the background, and I’m not going to make it an issue,″ Kresse said.

Unopposed Republican nominee Cindy Fosnow added: ``This is Judi’s county and a lot of people think she got a raw deal.

Because Tuesday’s turnout is expected to be low and because the motivation of Moriarty-Ebers and her backers is high, she appears to be a contender for a comeback.

Larry Newbill, owner of Sedalia’s Wax A Car detail shop, was receptive when Moriarty-Ebers asked to put a campaign sign in his yard. He considered it a gesture of thanks for her friendship with his late father.

``He would go to the county clerk’s office, and she would talk to him. She took time to talk to an old man, 75 years old, and he spoke well about her,″ Newbill said.

``I respect her for that,″ he added. ``But I don’t know Judi that well myself, and no, I haven’t decided how I will vote.″

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