In racking up an early fund-raising lead in the race for D.C. delegate, candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton has relied heavily on major contributions from labor unions and major national organizations that have not traditionally played a role in District campaigns.
Some of her rivals have been troubled by the decision of several national women's rights groups to back Norton when there are two other women in the race -- Betty Ann Kane and Barbara Lett Simmons -- who also support abortion rights.
Muriel Wolf, a prominent District physician and Kane supporter, was so incensed by the National Abortion Rights Action League's decision to support Norton that she dashed off a letter to NARAL Executive Director Kate Michelman, saying she was "shocked" by the group's action.
"The intrusion of NARAL into an election where there is simply not a pro-choice issue puts the organization squarely into the position of rendering a judgement over candidates where the issues are about local matters," Wolf wrote.
Actions such as NARAL's are no small matter in a very close primary election, where the contenders are finding it difficult to raise money from local sources. NARAL contributed $5,000 to Norton's campaign, as did several national labor political action committees supporting the former chief of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Voters for Choice political action committee also contributed $1,000 to Norton's campaign, while another women's rights group, EMILY's List, has recommended that its more than 3,000 members support Norton with $100 contributions to her campaign. One of the founders of EMILY's List, Ellen Malcolm, is holding a fund-raiser for Norton tonight.
"This is a difficult situation," acknowledged Wendy Sherman, executive director of EMILY's List. But, she added, "Eleanor Holmes Norton has been such an extraordinary leader that we felt it was our obligation to recommend her over other women."
A similar debate is now shaping up within the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation's leading political action committee for candidates supporting gay rights. The fund's former executive director and board member, Vic Basile, and some other officials are backing Norton, but some of Kane's allies in the gay community are urging the group to remain neutral.
"There has been a great deal of pressure to keep the fund from getting into the race," said one Norton ally. Some of Norton's allies say Kane supporters have threatened to withhold contributions to the fund if a Norton endorsement is made.
Basile, an adviser to Norton's campaign, said the fund ought to back the Georgetown University law professor because she is a "world-class candidate, as opposed to just a good candidate."
But Kane backers point out that one of the city's major gay political organizations, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, voted to support Kane, albeit narrowly, and that Kane has a sterling record on gay rights.
"It is my sincere hope that they would remain neutral," said Whitman-Walker Clinic administrator Jim Graham. "We are already a divided community. For the national group now to interfere would not gain anything, and would tend to further divide us -- to the detriment of HRCF."
Tim McFeeley, the fund's current executive director, said it is unclear whether the group will make an endorsement. "There's already a split in the gay and lesbian community, and we're not sure what we're going to do," he said.Food Fight
In announcing his group's endorsement of John Ray for mayor, Washington Teachers Union President William Simons couldn't resist taking a shot at one of Ray's rivals for the Democratic nomination, Charlene Drew Jarvis, on an apparently unrelated matter.
Simons also happens to be a member of the board of the Washington Convention Center, where officials appear to be increasingly unhappy about Jarvis's inaction on the center's choice of a new food service contract. The center submitted a resolution approving a new contractor to the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee in January, but the council recessed a few weeks ago without the committee's taking action on the bill.
Convention Center officials want to switch contractors because they believe they can make more money than with the current contractor, a subsidiary of the Delaware North Cos., which is also a major campaign contributor to Jarvis. Jarvis, chairman of the committee, has said she needs more time to review the proposal.
Jarvis "is still holding up the food service contract," Simons said Friday. He said he doesn't know when the contract will be approved. "All the legislation in her committee is just held up until she feels she has a chance to gain politically," he said.
"Bill Simons is being very political," a Jarvis spokeswoman responded. "What does the food service contract have to do with education? He should be grateful that Jarvis approved his nomination to the Convention Center board."