The city's Democratic Party is facing an open rebellion in Ward 3 over the nomination of Eleanor Holmes Norton for D.C. delegate, with many leading ward Democrats saying they refuse to support the party's nominee because of her tax problems.
Party officials said many of the ward's top Democratic activists and precinct workers have no intention of supporting Norton, and even the ward's top Democratic officeholder -- D.C. Council member Jim Nathanson -- said he is unsure whether he will vote for the party's nominee.
"That's up in the air right now," Nathanson said yesterday. "I'm not going to go out and actively work for her candidacy."
The leadership of the Ward 3 Democratic Party issued an unusual rebuke to Norton Tuesday night when it voted to withhold party funds from her campaign while supporting other Democratic candidates. The resolution stopped short of a more drastic one being considered that would have called on Norton to withdraw, but it represented a serious breach in the party's unity only six weeks before the general election.
Norton also told the Washington Post Tuesday that she and her husband were late in filing their federal income tax return this year, the first indication of a tax problem beyond her D.C. returns.
Meanwhile, Jesse L. Jackson, a Democratic nominee for a shadow U.S. Senate seat, failed to file a D.C. tax return in 1989, shortly after he moved here from Chicago, according to a statement issued yesterday by the National Rainbow Coalition.
According to the statement, Jackson filed his federal and Illinois tax returns for that year, but his Chicago tax accountant believed that he was not required to a file a D.C. return because Jackson had lived in the District for less than 183 days. He moved here on Aug. 3, 1989.
However, Jackson has since discovered that the law may require him to file a part-year form because he planned to become a permanent resident of the District, according to the statement. Jackson has instructed his accountant to review the situation and file the D.C. tax form if the law requires it, the statement said.
Jackson "wants to make it clear that he has paid all of his taxes," the statement added.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that Jackson did not file an income tax form with the District for 1989 earnings.
Joslyn N. Williams, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, attended the Ward 3 Democratic gathering, where he delivered a tough warning to maintain party discipline and urged Democrats not to give Republicans any "ammunition."
Norton's opponents in the Nov. 6 general election include Republican Harry M. Singleton and independent George X Cure, a member of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
Williams said yesterday that many party members, in Ward 3 and throughout the city, are concerned about Norton's acknowledged failure to file D.C. income tax returns for the past seven years. He said the party leadership has a considerable task of helping Norton to mend party fences before the election.
However, in citing Norton's primary victory, Williams stressed that her nomination is irreversible.
"The case is closed," said Williams. "Those who opposed her had their shot on Sept. 11. They failed. They cannot come back and try to prevail again by asking this woman to withdraw."
Norton acknowledged shortly before the Democratic primary that she and her husband, Edward Norton, failed to file their city tax returns for the past seven years. Last Friday, she announced that she had repaid the city nearly $90,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest, but she refused to release copies of her returns on the grounds that her husband considered it an invasion of privacy.
Nathanson and other Ward 3 Democrats called on Norton to release all her tax returns, both local and federal. They said they could not support her until more information is provided about the extent of her tax problems.
"I think it is appropriate to remain neutral until all the evidence is in," Nathanson said.
In appearing before Ward 3 party members Tuesday night, Norton indicated that she might be willing to consider some type of further disclosure, but she did not say what form that would take.
Yesterday, Norton's campaign manager, Donna Brazile, said the campaign is not answering any further questions about the taxes. "The matter has been resolved," she said. Norton has said she will not drop out of the race. If she were to do so, the Democratic State Committee would have to meet to select a new nominee.
The Norton tax affair has touched some raw nerves in Ward 3, the predominantly white neighborhoods in upper Northwest that have often been among the most vocal about reports of municipal corruption during the tenure of Mayor Marion Barry. Also, the anti-tax rebellion that has swept the city in recent years had its roots in Ward 3.
Norton was decisively defeated in Ward 3 by D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (At Large), who finished second to Norton in the Democratic primary, with 33 percent of the vote to Norton's 40 percent.
Ward 3's continuing resentment was on full display Tuesday night during a sometimes passionate meeting among more than 100 party members and others who gathered to hear Norton, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and to debate what to do about her tax disclosures.
While some party members said the party should respect the wishes of the Democratic electorate, others voiced anger about Norton's failure to file tax returns and said the group should somehow formally express that anger.
"People want the right to speak their minds," said Kurt Vorndran, a member of the Ward 3 Democrat Executive Committee. "What people wanted to do was show some displeasure with professor Norton . . . . I don't think they wanted to hurt the party in the long run."
Vorndran, who supported Kane in the primary, said he is now supporting Norton, but said Norton has lost considerable support in the ward. "I'm sad to say that probably most of the Democrats -- even on the ward committee -- will probably not vote for her," he said.