D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) narrowly beat civil rights activist Eleanor Holmes Norton last night for the endorsement of the District's major gay political group in the campaign for D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives.

Kane received 46 votes and Norton 42 votes in balloting by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club after hard-fought efforts by both candidates to solicit the support of the city's politically influential gay community.

Kane hailed the action as an "important endorsement" that reflected acceptance of one of her campaign's central themes: that her hard work on behalf of constituents as a council member could be translated into effective representation in Congress.

Norton, a law professor at Georgetown University, also took heart in the results, stressing that as a political newcomer, she almost knocked off a political incumbent with long-standing ties to the Stein Club.

"These people are all tied in to Kane, and she could only get half of them," Norton said. "This is not a major mandate for Kane."

Three other Democratic delegate candidates -- former council chairman Sterling Tucker, former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons and former congressional aide Donald Temple -- participated in a Stein Club debate with Kane and Norton before the endorsement. None of the three received any votes.

In seeking the Stein endorsement, Norton, a former chief of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stressed her civil and human rights background, while Kane stressed her constituent service and backing for gay-rights causes.

Kane, for instance, recently sponsored legislation calling for the city to subsidize the medical insurance for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, and put it on a legislative fast track just before last night's meeting.

She also has attacked Norton for failing to side with gay students at Georgetown University who were seeking recognition from the administration. She did not directly raise the issue last night, but Norton was questioned about the matter and rebutted Kane's assertions.

She said that she was one of many members of the law school faculty who urged the university to compromise with students during the long legal battle over the issue. "My position has been falsified," Norton said. "I am proud of the role that I played."

In the debate afterward, supporters of both candidates traded charges. Tom Chorlton, a Stein member running for the shadow seats to lobby for D.C. statehood, said Kane has tried to thwart measures designed to advance statehood, such as the legislation creating the shadow seats.

"No member of the council has done more to retard the progress of statehood than Betty Ann Kane," he said. "Eleanor Holmes Norton will give us the most effective voice we can have for statehood."

Paul Kuntzler, who recently was nominated to serve on the city's lottery board, questioned Norton's credentials for the post and said that Kane has sided with the gay community for her entire legislative career.

"Eleanor Norton, to me, has been a vague figure that I scarcely have been aware of until this year," he said. "Betty Ann Kane has been with us through the years . . . . I'm not prepared to throw all that away."