D.C. voters sent Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton to Congress yesterday, boosting her past the hurdle of a nettlesome family tax problem to give her a comfortable victory over Republican Harry M. Singleton.
With all 140 precincts reporting, Norton led Singleton 62 percent to 26 percent, with three other candidates trailing far behind in the race to succeed Democratic Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who gave up his seat after 19 years for an unsuccessful mayoral bid in the September primary.
"I thank the voters in deep humility for this extraordinary demonstration of fairness, for this chance to prove I can do something for my home town," Norton told cheering supporters at the Washington Court Hotel on New Jersey Avenue NW, as Fauntroy stood by her side.
Though she was victorious, Norton's majority was well below fellow Democrat Sharon Pratt Dixon's 86 percent in the mayoral race, a sign of how deeply the Norton campaign was hurt by revelations that she and her husband failed to file D.C. income tax returns for eight years. Her husband, Edward, was at her victory celebration but not with her as she made her statement.
A novice in District politics, Singleton garnered more than twice as many votes as Republican mayoral candidate Maurice T. Turner Jr., a more familiar face in the city from his years as police chief.
Singleton, an education consultant, carried Ward 3 west of Rock Creek Park handily and nearly won Ward 2, which includes Georgetown. However, Norton, a Georgetown University law professor, won easily in Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8. Exit polling conducted for The Washington Post found that a majority of white voters supported Singleton.
In a concession statement at the Mayflower Hotel, Singleton said, "I take my hat off to Professor Norton," and added, "We'll be back again."
Across the city, many voters said the delegate's race was their thorniest choice of the day, with many lifelong Democrats contending the tax issue had driven them toward Singleton, even though they knew little about him.
"Who the hell can believe Eleanor Holmes Norton and her husband, both lawyers, didn't pay their taxes because they didn't know any better?" said Art Mackwell, as he emerged from a polling place at Goodwill Baptist Church in Ward 1. "I pay taxes. You pay taxes."
"That was the toughest I had to make," said Dorothy McPeak, an office manager who had just cast her ballot for Singleton at the Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown, calling him "the lesser of evils."
Cardoza Bigby, a Ward 7 resident, said she voted for Norton because she was more upset about Singleton's recent acknowledgement that he had "occasionally" smoked marijuana.
But Bill Begeny, a 39-year-old management consultant, said he voted for Norton because he believed her. "I think her explanation that her husband screwed up, silly as it sounds, is actually rather credible," he said. "People do allocate functions that way."
The race featured two graduates of Yale Law School, both making their first run for elective office and both former officials charged with enforcing civil rights laws.
Norton, 53, who headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Carter administration after serving in a similar post in New York City, said repeatedly that she did not know her husband had failed to file their D.C. income taxes. After that disclosure, Norton paid the city nearly $90,000 in taxes and penalties.
But Norton refused to make public the tax records, citing her husband's refusal. Moreover, the couple's explanation for what had happened changed during the campaign. Norton said initially that her husband, Edward, had not filed their 1982 return because of a dispute with the District, but later Edward Norton said he had simply let the filing slip.
As a result, Singleton hammered the issue of taxes, questioning whether Norton would have credibility on Capitol Hill when seeking funding for the District.
Singleton, however, soon found himself on the defensive, particularly about his service as assistant secretary of education for civil rights in the Reagan administration.
A House subcommittee said in a 1985 report that Singleton, 41, had been lax in pursuing civil rights violations, an allegation the candidate dismissed as partisan.
On Friday, Singleton acknowledged that he had testified during his divorce case in 1984 that he had "occasionally" smoked marijuana, including during a period in which he rose from chief minority counsel of the House District of Columbia Committee to deputy assistant secretary of commerce and then to assistant secretary of education.
Staff writer Stephen Buckley contributed to this report.