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Why Can’t Political Husbands Be More Like Political Wives? With PM-Norton-Taxes

September 11, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If Edward Norton were running for Congress and his wife Eleanor didn’t mail their tax returns for eight years, would that be the end of his career?

Political analysts think probably not. But they see dimmer prospects for his wife, whose real-life District of Columbia congressional bid appears to be sinking under the weight of her husband’s tax revelations.

″I can’t recall a male candidate who’s been penalized by something that his wife has done,″ says Jane Danowitz, director of the Women’s Campaign Fund. ″And yet we see scores of women that people are attempting to bring down by citing their husbands’ indiscretions.″

Norton is not the only candidate having husband trouble this year.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein is on the defensive about her wealthy husband’s complex business dealings, investments and contributions to her campaign for governor of California.

And in Colorado, Democratic Senate candidate Josie Heath’s husband retired from Manville Corp. earlier than he had planned when Heath’s primary opponent tried to tie her environmental record to Manville’s asbestos problems.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a law professor and former Carter administration civil rights official, had projected a winning image of strength and competence. The disclosure that her husband hadn’t filed the couple’s D.C. tax returns since 1982 - and hadn’t told her - was disheartening to many supporters.

The Norton debacle reminded many of Geraldine Ferraro’s ordeal as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1984. Her husband, John Zaccaro, initially caused a flap by refusing to release his income tax returns.

The situation escalated with questions about his father’s Mafia ties, an alleged illegal bribe and a conservatorship that he was found to have mishandled. Zaccaro eventually was acquitted by a jury of the bribery allegation.

Two years before Ferraro’s troubles, Democrat Roxanne Conlin was coasting toward the governorship of Iowa. Then she disclosed that she and her husband, a real estate investor, were worth $2.2 million but had paid no state income taxes and made only a token federal payment the year before.

Voters didn’t buy her explanation that she owed no taxes because of her husband’s business losses - especially since he was using real estate tax shelters that she had campaigned against.

A husband’s dealings also proved fatal in 1987, when California Secretary of State March Fong Eu dropped out of a Democratic Senate primary race rather than meet financial disclosure requirements regarding her income. Eu said her ″married relationship is such″ that she couldn’t reveal details of her husband’s interests in Hong Kong and Singapore.

While recent history is dotted with troublesome husbands, it is harder to find cases in which men have paid for their wives’ behavior.

There was Marion Javits’ lucrative consultant work for the Iranian government, which greatly embarrassed her husband, the late Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y. And Sen. Mark Hatfield’s wife triggered an ethics probe by accepting $55,000 in real estate fees from a Greek businessman.

However, Danowitz said ″these people made the personality column but not the front page. It’s been a personal interest story rather than something terribly damaging″ to the politician.

The disparity is attributed by many to a patronizing view of women: they are presumed to have less influence over their husbands, less of a power base in the outside world and less potential for creating a conflict of interest.

″It’s a double standard,″ says John Reilly, the political adviser who was in charge of selecting the Democrats’ 1984 vice presidential candidate. ″It’s a throwback and it bothers me.″

As more political wives pursue careers of their own, analysts wonder if their activities will be scrutinized as carefully as those of the political husbands now in the spotlight.

″It may be that when women come of age in all aspects of our society, they’ll have an equally detrimental effect on the campaigns of their spouses,″ Danowitz joked.

But for now, the Norton saga is another cautionary tale for women.

″It certainly will redouble everyone’s efforts to ensure that women running for office know everything there is to be known about their family circumstances,″ said Wendy Sherman, executive director of Emily’s List, a Democratic fund-raising group that endorsed Norton.