For the District, says Eleanor Holmes Norton, the issue on Capitol Hill is respect. The city needs to regain it, and Norton, a Democratic candidate for D.C. delegate, says she can get it.

Norton, 53, a Georgetown University law professor, longtime civil rights activist and former federal equal opportunity official, says that her national stature and record of service put her on a footing with members of Congress as a "peer, not a supplicant." And her campaign, she says, shows that she has a broad base of support, cultivated through work in the civic trenches.

"In a city that many feel has experienced racial division in the past several months, mine is the only candidacy for delegate that has a strong multiracial and multiethnic base," Norton said in an interview.

That support, she said, "is an important basis for leadership in this city as well as in the Congress and will help heal the divisions some are experiencing. It may be the most valuable thing about my campaign."

The campaign of this first-time political candidate has attracted considerable attention. So far, she leads the five other Democratic candidates in both endorsements and contributions.

A Washington Post poll published this week showed Norton holding a strong lead over her nearest Democratic rivals, Sterling Tucker and Betty Ann Kane.

But national stature, the very attribute that Norton touts as an advantage, is seen by some as a liability. Kane, an at-large D.C. Council member, says that Norton's record in local service and issues is weak.

As evidence, Kane and others cite Norton's failure to vote in four of the last 12 local primary elections. Norton says she missed voting because she frequently was out of town on business, including her work in 1988 on the presidential campaign of Jesse L. Jackson.

Such criticism, said Norton, "happens when people see that they are down and think that there is a front-runner. So you have to be mature and philosophical about that and expect it. In that sense it's a compliment. People don't go negative when they're ahead."

Still, Norton is quick to point to her record of local service. The fourth-generation Washingtonian and Capitol Hill resident served on the Committee on Public Education, which has studied the District school system and recommended improvements. She also served on the Community Foundation of Greater Washington, the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar Association and a committee to restore federally funded abortion services in the city.

Her track record on national issues extends to the legal work she did during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She also was a First Amendment specialist with the American Civil Liberties Union, then head of New York City's Human Rights Commission and, later, chief of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Norton is a strong statehood candidate who believes that the treatment the District receives on Capitol Hill, along with the fact that the delegate cannot vote on the House floor, shows "this city has been disrespected on the Hill in the worst way."

She would push in Congress for a fixed formula for determining the annual federal payment to the District -- a payment in lieu of taxes to compensate the city for services rendered to the federal government. She said she also would work to give the city more autonomy over its budget and criminal justice system.

Norton said she favors some sort of commuter or reciprocal tax to help the city cover the costs of playing host to commuters who work here but live in the suburbs. The home rule charter adopted by Congress currently prohibits such a tax.