Bernard Epton, 66, the Republican who in 1983 ran against then-Rep. Harold Washington (D-Ill.) for mayor of Chicago in a contest marred by racial devisiveness, died Dec. 13 at a hotel in Ann Arbor, Mich., after an apparent heart attack.

Mr. Epton and his wife Audrey were in Ann Arbor to visit their son, City Council member Jeff Epton.

In a bitter campaign, Mr. Epton, who was white, challenged Washington, who was attempting to become the first black elected mayor of Chicago. Mr. Epton hoped to become the city's first Republican mayor in 50 years.

He lost by about 40,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast. Washington, who was reelected mayor this year, died Nov. 25, also after a heart attack.

Mr. Epton, a witty, sometimes sharp-tongued former state legislator, complained shortly after his mayoral campaign that the media had miscast him as a racist and said voters had "left their brains at home." A millionaire insurance attorney, he said that he was hurt and embittered by the charges of racism.

"It's bad enough losing," he said after the election. "To find out after 62 years that {people believe} you're really a racist . . . is really rather disconcerting."

Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), who served with Epton in the state Legislature, remembered him yesterday as "a man of charm and ability. The saddest thing I could remember seeing is Bernie Epton being accused of being a racist. That he never was.

"He'll be remembered for the wrong things," she said. "For those of us who knew him, that was the greatest irony of all."

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include three other children.