Harry M. Singleton, the Republican nominee for D.C. delegate to Congress, acknowledged in a 1984 deposition that he had occasionally smoked marijuana, including during a period in which he was serving in high-level posts on Capitol Hill and in the Reagan administration.
Testifying on Nov. 8, 1984, in a proceeding related to his divorce from his wife, Margot, Singleton said he had used marijuana "probably five" times in the preceeding three years. During that time, he rose from chief minority counsel of the House District Committee to deputy assistant secretary of commerce and then to assistant secretary of education.
"I was experimenting when I was deputy assistant secretary," Singleton said yesterday, explaining that he did so only in social settings. "I was not what you would call a user . . . . You're at a party and somebody's passing something around and you take a hit."
Singleton, 41, said he would not characterize his use as right or wrong, but rather "certainly something a lot of people in my generation did." Singleton also said in the deposition that while an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, "I grew marijuana I think once or twice as an experiment in my dorm room."
He said yesterday he didn't recall ever growing marijuana. As for smoking it, Singleton said, "The point is, I do not do that now and have not for years. That was probably the last time I did anything like that."
He said, "If you look into people's pasts, you'll find a lot of things like that," adding, "It wasn't the highlight of my life."
Possession of marijuana in the District is a misdemeanor.
The Washington Post discovered the deposition while reviewing Singleton's divorce case, after a former Singleton associate and an aide to Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic candidate for delegate, suggested that the paper look more closely at his personal life.
The deposition came during a bitter divorce case that ended with Singleton's being awarded custody of the couple's two children.
In her own deposition, Margot Singleton, then an employee of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sought to win custody and alleged that she and Singleton had used cocaine and that he had beaten her on several occasions.
Both in the deposition and in an interview, Singleton emphatically denied the allegations of cocaine use. In the deposition, he said "there was no violence with the exception of one occasion when we had a knock down drag out fight. That was the only time that we had ever come to blows."
Singleton said in the deposition that on that occasion, "she pulled a knife on me and threatened to kill me and well it was, it was self-defense." In the interview yesterday, he said, "I had to grab her arm to get the knife out of her arm, that's what I had to do . . . . I never beat her.
"Those are wild accusations that she was making. She was very upset. She was trying to hurt me," said Singleton, adding that she was trying "to build a record to get custody of the children."
Margot Singleton could not be reached for comment.
Roy E. Kinsey Jr., the lawyer who represented Margot Singleton, said, "Nothing in terms of either side's allegations were ever substantiated. In divorce proceedings, the mud flies, especially when custody is at stake."
Meanwhile, a poll conducted late last month for WJLA-TV (Channel 7) showed Norton with a comfortable lead over Singleton. In a survey of 600 voters that has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, 57 percent of those asked supported Norton and 20 percent backed Singleton.
About half of the respondents, however, said Norton must have known that her D.C. income taxes had not been filed for the past eight years. Norton has said her husband never told her he had failed to do so, an explanation that a third of those polled said they believed.
Norton sought yesterday to shift the focus from her taxes to her record in civil rights and the Carter administration, holding a news conference in Freedom Plaza with several national political figures.
"There is no one running for public office in whom I have greater confidence," Ronald H. Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the gathering.
Also attending were Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women; Vernon E. Jordan, former president of the National Urban League; Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; and several local political figures.
Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Nathan McCall and R.H. Melton contributed to this report.