WASHINGTON -- The husband of one of the leading Democratic contenders to be the District of Columbia's next delegate to Congress described himself yesterday as the "villain" whose failure to file their joint D.C. income tax returns for eight years may have torpedoed his wife's candidacy.
At the same time, the candidate herself, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said on the eve of Washington's primary election: "I am in this race to stay."
Mrs. Norton, a Georgetown University law professor, had been regarded as the front-runner to win the Democratic nomination for the non-voting congressional delegate's seat. In heavily Democratic Washington, the party's nomination would virtually assure her election in November to the post held for 19 years by Democrat Walter E. Fauntroy.
But her campaign took a direct hit Friday with the disclosure by an anonymous report sent to various Washington news organizations that she and her husband had not filed D.C. income tax returns from 1982 through 1989.
In a flurry of statements and interviews over the weekend, Mrs. Norton reported that about $49,000 had been withheld from her salary and paid in D.C. taxes during the 1982-89 period, and that Mr. Norton"handles all the family finances, including taxes." On Sunday, she said she had mailed to the D.C. Treasury checks for back taxes and penalties totaling more than $28,000.
In yesterday's editions the Washington Post came out with an editorial supporting one of Mrs. Norton's chief rivals for the Democratic candidacy -- Betty Ann Kane, an at-large member of the D.C. City Council since 1979. The editorial described Mrs. Norton's tax-return problem as "disqualifying" her from candidacy.
Also yesterday, Mrs. Kane called upon Mrs. Norton to withdraw from the race.
Instead, Mrs. Norton held what she called a "family press conference" on the sidewalk in front of her campaign headquarters. She said it had been her husband, Edward Norton, also a lawyer and a former chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, who had insisted upon the meeting with the media.
"Everything that has happened with this has been my fault," Mr. Norton said. "I am the villain in this."
When asked to explain how it was that he had not filed the tax returns, he replied: "I just delayed it. ... It was a matter of 'Well, I'll get to it tomorrow.'"
Mrs. Norton, who is black and seeking elected office for the first time, faces not only Mrs. Kane, who is white, but also two veteran black politicians, Sterling Tucker and Joseph P. Yeldell.