Former school board member Barbara Lett Simmons said last night that she is withdrawing from the race for D.C. delegate and indicated that she may throw her support to another candidate.
With just 11 days until the Democratic primary, Simmons, who was behind in most public opinion polls, said she would explain her decision at a news conference today.
Political observers speculated that she was preparing to back Georgetown University law professor Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Meanwhile, Norton extended her sizable lead in fund-raising, reporting that she raised $154,456 in contributions in the last seven weeks, giving her a total of $271,702 for the campaign, according to a report she filed late yesterday with the Federal Election Commission. Norton was buoyed by extensive contributions from national political action committees.
D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane reported raising $48,779 in that period, for a total of $126,955. Kane also lent her campaign $30,000 and reported cash on hand of $53,364.
Former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker said in an interview that he had raised about $28,000 in the last seven weeks, for a total of about $50,000 in contributions, and that he had $10,000 on hand. Former Barry administration official Joseph P. Yeldell and lawyer Donald Temple said they did not have figures available last night.
Norton is leading her five Democratic opponents in the race to succeed Walter E. Fauntroy as the District's nonvoting delegate to Congress, according to a Washington Post poll this week. Last night, she found herself under attack from all sides during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and the Washington Gas Light Co.
Tucker, who resigned as the city's anti-drug czar to run for delegate, said he had asked Norton to serve on one of the teams devising strategy for the city's battle against illegal drugs and she refused, saying she was "too busy."
"You could not find the time to serve the community," Tucker told Norton, a former chief of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who has also been criticized by her other opponents for failing to get involved in local civic affairs.
Norton replied icily, "My community roots have been every bit as deep as yours," and added that "declining to serve on a committee that you desired me to serve on does not impugn" her commitment to the city.
In response to an earlier question, Norton defended her community service record, noting her roots as a fourth generation Washingtonian and saying that she served on several local boards, including the Ward 6 Democrats, as well as the Community Foundation of Greater Washington and a committee looking at Howard University's problems.
Norton also came under fire from Temple, who questioned her failure to vote in several recent city elections, and from Yeldell, who criticized the extent of contributions to her from groups and individuals outside the city.
"National reputations are not going to solve the problems of the city," Yeldell said. "We need to look locally."
Norton did not have an opportunity to respond to Temple, but has previously explained her missed votes as having been caused by unavoidable absences from the city. She also said that many of the national groups gave her contributions only after their local chapters endorsed her, and she said some of her rivals competed for the same endorsement.
"If the same money had been offered to other candidates, they would have gladly taken it," she said. "I won it fair and square."