D.C. delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton disclosed late yesterday that she and her husband have failed to file D.C. income tax returns for tax years 1982 through 1989, citing her husband's "procrastination" and an alleged dispute with the city over an amount owed.
Norton said in a written statement that she learned about the failure "for the first time" yesterday, after her husband, Edward Norton, a lawyer and former chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, spent the day reviewing the family's tax records.
A top campaign aide said that Norton, who has led her rivals in fund-raising and in public opinion polls, has no plans to drop out of the race, three days before the Democratic primary.
Many of the details of the Nortons' tax situation were unclear yesterday because campaign officials provided reporters with limited information and said the Nortons were continuing to review their records.
Norton, a Georgetown University law professor and former Carter administration official, said that her husband had always handled the family's taxes and had assured her that the D.C. tax returns she said she signed had been sent to the District government.
She said her husband told her that the failure to file "originated with his view that the amount assessed for 1982 was considerably more than was actually due." Norton did not state their total tax liability or the amount in dispute.
According to a Norton aide, the dispute was over consulting fees and other income not subject to withholding. The District government provided an estimate of the tax bill to Edward Norton that was higher than he contends is actually owed, the aide said.
"The amount should have been officially disputed," Eleanor Norton said.
"I love and trust my husband and realize that his lack of candor resulted from an understandable reluctance of a busy man to admit to his procrastination," Norton said in a written statement released by the campaign. "The situation is all the more tragic because our income has at all times been more than ample to pay any taxes due."
Norton added, "I hope that the people of the District, who have been exceedingly generous to me during this campaign and have shown confidence in me will understand the matter for what it is -- a human failing and not a deliberate attempt to circumvent our responsibility."
Norton's statement followed an admission Friday night that she and her husband owed at least $25,000 in delinquent income taxes and penalties from 1982.
The Washington Post and other media organizations received from an unidentified individual faxed copies of a document indicating that the Nortons failed to pay $10,755 in income taxes due in 1982. The document indcates that, with interest and penalties, the Nortons owed $25,381.80 as of Jan. 18, 1989.
The disclosure drew strong criticism from Sterling Tucker and other Democrats competing with Nortin in Tuesday's primary.
Tucker said he was "flabbergasted" by her disclosure and said it should disqualify her from running.
"I don't possibly see how she can stay in the race," Tucker said. "How can she be talking about a federal payment increase? How can she be fighting with the federal government on the issue of its tax payment to us, when she paid not at all? How can she represent us on that issue?"
"I'm outraged as a citizen that anybody would have the nerve to run for office with that kind of current record," Tucker added. "It's a reflection of her callousness and insensitivity and unconcern toward the District of Columbia government and its people.
"With all this talk about a new beginning and new credibility, how can we send someone to Congress who is the antithesis of that?"
D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane, another leading candidate in the delegate's race, said Norton's disclosure "certainly shows she has no interest in local affairs."
"I'm speechless," Kane said. "It's incredible. It's illegal. She certainly should not be elected. We don't need more embarrassment."
Curtis Pree, campaign manager for Donald M. Temple, a lawyer, asked, "How can she now expect to go to Congress and win what she believes is respect for the District of Columbia government when she has violated a basic principle of good citizenship and good government?"
Democratic candidate Joseph P. Yeldell could not be reached for comment.
Earlier yesterday, Norton sought to quell any political furor over her delinquent 1982 D.C. income taxes, alluding to the disclosure as an "attempted smear."
"Nothing can stop us now," Norton told supporters gathered at Bruce Monroe Elementary School in Northwest. "No trick or attempted smear, nothing can stop us now. I run on a lifetime of demonstrated integrity."
Although the appearance had been billed as a news conference, Norton, the former chief of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, declined to answer questions from reporters before being hustled away by aides.
Several prominent Washingtonians supporting Norton, including Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, former Ward 3 council member Polly Shackleton, civil rights lawyer Joseph Rauh, and council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) issued a statement released at the gathering reaffirming their support. "No issue of personal propriety or integrity is raised by a failure of which Ms. Norton was totally unaware," the statement said.
The statement asserted that the incident "cannot detract from her superior qualifications and an unusually distinguished career, which will bring honor to our city."
Norton then embarked on a day of canvassing throughout the city.
Meanwhile, a former Internal Revenue Service official said the Nortons had other tax problems.
William Norton, the former IRS official and no relation of Eleanor Holmes Norton, told a Washington radio audience that he received a letter in 1975 from his New York bank, the Irving Trust Company, notifying him that the IRS had filed a notice of levy against his bank account.
However, the enclosed notice named Eleanor and Edward Norton, not William Norton, and listed an address in Upper Manhattan, William Norton said on WAMU's Fred Fiske show yesterday morning. The Nortons lived in New York before moving to Washington in 1977, when Eleanor Holmes Norton was appointed chief of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The notice said the Nortons had not filed a 942 tax return reporting withholding for domestic employment, said William Norton, who worked in the IRS collection division until 1983 and now lives in Reston.
The Nortons not only owed the money, he said, but also had failed to file a return.
Norton had no immediate comment on the allegation, but she said in her statement that "there are no federal income taxes due." An aide said the Nortons have filed all required federal returns.
Staff writers Linda Wheeler, Patricia Davis, R.H. Melton and Steve Twomey contributed to this report.