At first, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) couldn't believe his eyes. A San Antonio newspaper carried a story last month accusing him of having voted to grant early releases to hundreds of convicted D.C. felons, including rapists and armed robbers, and his chief accuser was Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), a longtime colleague on the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.

Gonzalez only recently had agreed to support a Parris amendment to a major housing bill. And Parris had praised Gonzalez's impartiality in presiding over the House when Parris came within 10 votes of overturning a recently passed D.C. law allowing the early release of certain inmates.

Yet Parris was quoted in the article as saying that it was "inconceivable" that Gonzalez would allow hundreds of dangerous criminals to be released from jail "to wreak havoc" on the nation's capital.

Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.) received a similar blast from Parris, this one carried by a Queen Anne's County newspaper, that questioned whether Dyson's answer to rising crime "is just to release criminals once the jails are full." In all, 50 or more Democrats were targeted for attacks by Parris in press releases issued by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"It left a very bad taste up here that will take a lot of brushing to get rid of," said Dyson, reflecting a view widely held among House Democrats.

"This has stirred things up, from California to Massachusetts," Gonzalez said. " . . . This is a direct, hostile and inaccurate invasion into members' districts."

There is nothing new about the Republican and Democratic campaign committees sniping at members in the opposite camp. But it is unusual for a rank-and-file member such as Parris to level personal attacks against colleagues across the aisle.

For Parris, a silver-haired millionaire businessman who is leading the fight against D.C. statehood, the attacks represent a dramatic departure from his customary gadfly style that often irritated but never alienated the Democratic majority. Since arriving in Congress in 1973, Parris has demonstrated an uncanny knack for capitalizing on House rules and galvanizing Republicans and Democrats as he pursued largely parochial interests.

As a freshman, he rallied the support of virtually every House member by introducing legislation to prohibit the National Football League from blacking out local telecasts of sold-out home games. Parris was reacting to complaints from his Northern Virginia constituents about blacked-out Washington Redskins games, but in so doing he struck a responsive national chord. His bill sailed through Congress in a matter of weeks.

In positioning himself as a critic of the D.C. government, Parris frequently has been able to enlist Democratic allies by appealing to their growing concerns about crime and their belief that Congress must retain some control over the nation's capital.

Parris, the successor to the late Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) as ranking Republican on the House District Committee, dealt D.C. statehood a hard blow by delaying action and mustering constitutional arguments that were persuasive to some Democrats.

"I have to acknowledge he's a worthy opponent and a determined advocate of his cause," said Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), chief sponsor of the D.C. statehood bill and Parris' most vocal critic.

But by cooperating in the GOP campaign's attacks against incumbent Democrats, Fauntroy contends, Parris made a tactical error that will haunt him in subsequent skirmishes over statehood. The task was better left to Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and other GOP partisans, according to the D.C. delegate.

"It put him on the moral defensive," Fauntroy said. " . . . When one contrasts unfair tactics like that with the moral rightness of our position, we come out ahead."

To compound Parris' problem, several targeted Democrats who confronted Parris or his staff were told that although Parris had agreed to let his name be used by the GOP Congressional Committee, he had no idea that the press releases would include quotes attributed to him directly attacking individual members.

"He said he didn't know what was in it and that he just gave them permission to use his name," said Rep. Buddy Darden (D-Ga.).

Gonzalez, who sent a note to Parris about the release, recalled, "He came over and said, 'Henry, I had nothing to do with this . . . . I had no control over that.' I assume that by the time he found out, it had been put out in that form and it was too late."

Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who also spoke with Parris, said he believes that the Virginia representative was manipulated by the GOP campaign group, adding that the tone of the press release was "not in character with the Stan Parris I have known."

"He's a fine gentleman, and you could never convince me he would ever do that publicly," said Anthony. "He was used by his own group. If that had happened on my side, my members would have kicked my butt."

Parris, however, confirmed in an interview last week that he urged Vander Jagt to make an issue of the early prisoner release vote, that he fully cooperated with the Republican committee in preparing the release, and that his top legislative assistant edited the final draft before it was sent to targeted districts around the country.

"These {Democrats} have a public job, and every vote is a matter of public record," he said. "I wonder about somebody being incensed because the committee notified {the public} in this way . . . . The committee saw fit to increase the accountability on that vote."

Parris said his views were expressed accurately in the press releases and that the quotes had been lifted from his floor statements. However, he insisted that he had been unaware that the GOP committee had altered his quotes to make it appear that he was attacking individual members rather than Democrats in general.

"I think anybody who voted {against his resolution} was wrong," he said. "That means their judgment was bad. It doesn't mean they're evil. And it's not personal."

Steve Lotterer, a spokesman for the GOP committee, defended the press release as a legitimate means of holding Democrats accountable for a vote on an important law-and-order issue. "It will make it a little more difficult for a Democrat to go home and say 'I'm tough on crime' when he cast a vote allowing very serious offenders to be released early," he said.

At issue was the District's effort to comply with court orders to reduce prison crowding by shaving as many as 90 days from the prison terms of inmates who were not convicted of serious violent crimes. Since July 3, when Mayor Marion Barry declared a prison emergency, about 870 prsioners have been freed under the program.

Parris introduced a resolution to overturn the D.C. legislation, but the District Committee voted 8 to 0 -- at a meeting boycotted by the Republicans -- to reject Parris' resolution.

Invoking a seldom-used rule under the D.C. home rule law, Parris requested on Oct. 15 that the House immediately pull the resolution from committee and bring it to the floor for a vote. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the District Committee, opposed the move as an intrusion on home rule and an affront to him and his committee, which he said had dealt fairly with Parris' resolution.

Parris had done his homework. He lined up the unanimous support of House Republicans and persuaded a surprising number of Democrats to cross over with two carefully crafted "Dear Colleague" letters that emphasized what he called the dangers to public safety posed by the early release program.

When Dellums made a motion to table Parris' resolution of disapproval, he ran into strong resistance. As the clock ran out on the vote, Parris' forces actually were ahead. But a flurry of arm twisting by the Democratic leadership -- while Gonzalez held open the vote -- persuaded about 20 Democrats to switch in favor of Dellums. The final vote was 210 to 200 to table the resolution.

Democrats contend that the vote was technically a procedural vote that did not go to the substance of the early release program. Republicans disagree, arguing that the vote was the clearest indication of House sentiment on the early release concept.