This week, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean vaulted to the head of the 2004 class of Democratic presidential candidates. He’s on the cover of both Newsweek and Time. He’s raised money beyond even his own expectations. Rivals are gunning for him, further establishing him as the party front-runner.

And now, the ultimate approbation: An ever-widening faction of the D.C. Council is lining up behind the New Englander. Thus far, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty, and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose have committed to Dean, with others likely to follow.

The jockeying over presidential candidates comes in anticipation of D.C.’s Jan. 13 Democratic primary, which will be the first in the country. Earlier this year, a unanimous D.C. Council, with the approval of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, bumped the city’s presidential contest ahead of the traditional early birds, Iowa and New Hampshire, in a power play to attract national attention to our city’s voting-rights issue.

What the move attracted was the ire of the Democratic party. Party leaders threatened not to seat D.C. delegates at the national convention, because the early election violates agreed-upon rules governing the primary season. Local Democrats have gotten around the technical violation by holding the primary on Jan. 13 and then caucuses—where the delegates will actually get selected—later in the primary season. Yet party poohbahs are still trying to discourage local officials from holding the nonbinding vote, say D.C. Democrats.

Plus, national leaders warn that the early primary might further marginalize our heavily Democratic town, because the only candidates who would stump on Iowa and New Hampshire Avenues NW might be the lightweights, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Dean, though, seems willing to take a detour from Concord and Dixville Notch in Vermont’s neighboring New Hampshire to make a few house calls to the District. He has met with local supporters, including D.C. primary coordinator Paul McKenzie. “He said, ‘Paul, I know what you’re doing is really important,’” says McKenzie. “‘I take D.C. very seriously.’”

Hmmm. Maybe Dean isn’t presidential timber, after all.

He has made personal calls to several members of the D.C. Council, including Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 4’s Fenty, and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp. McKenzie says Dean wants to speak to all 11 Democratic councilmembers.

According to LL Polling Services LLC, other Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) have worked the council switchboard about as feverishly as Mayor Williams. They presumably won’t bother to interrupt their stump speeches on the economy and health care to talk a bit about one of the country’s foremost civil-rights issues: D.C.’s lack of voting representation in Congress.

Dean, meanwhile, has managed to snare the wonk constituency on the council. “When I left the American Public Welfare Association for the [D.C. Council], Gov. Dean was on his way to making a difference with the constituencies we worked with—low income kids and families, through child health and child welfare initiatives in Vermont,” explains Patterson via e-mail. “He came to one of the last meetings I attended as a senior staff member and was very impressive in his grasp of needs and issues at the state and local level.”

Dean has an advantage with Patterson,

of course: He isn’t seeking an enhanced

pension package.

In many ways, Dean’s a good ally for the city’s reconstituted legislature: He’s a fiscally prudent budget-balancer but also an advocate for universal health care and other lefty social issues. Within the current field of nine Democratic hopefuls, the doctor from Ben & Jerry’s country has distinguished himself for his outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq.

Dean supporters in the District floated their message at the July 4 Palisades neighborhood parade, led by McKenzie. The contingent marched past George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who said, “Yeah, that’s the one we want,” and then led cheers for Dean.

Republicans want to frame Dean as the next Michael Dukakis disaster, a Northeast governor too liberal and out of touch with the American heartland to be elected.

Dean won’t have that problem here: D.C. gave Dukakis 83 percent of its vote in 1988.

Ward 4’s Fenty has attended several Dean events, including a recent roundtable with the governor. Fenty and about a dozen other local pols met with Dean to discuss national and local issues, including the District’s quest for statehood. “He’s on the right side of the issues,” says Fenty, before correcting himself: “He’s on the correct side of the issues.”

The District has gotten attention from small-state governors before. When Bill Clinton moved into the White House, he took his famous stroll down Georgia Avenue NW. Georgia Avenue still looks largely the same.

Still, Dean’s on the verge of getting even more support from local pols, including Ward 2’s Evans. “I’ve spoken with Gov. Dean. I like what he stands for,” says the councilmember, who adds that Dean seems to have a good working knowledge of the city’s voting-rights plight. “I’ll be making an announcement in the near future about my support for him.”

When he appeared this winter at an event near Union Station, WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin recalls, Dean said little about D.C. voting rights or statehood. When Plotkin pressed him about the issue, Dean said, “OK, I’ll put it in my health speech.”

Given the Dems’ record on reforming health care, D.C. residents can settle in for centuries of political servitude.

Meanwhile, the candidate who’s been the District’s biggest ally on the Hill—Connecticut’s Sen. Joe Lieberman—hasn’t been much of a presence yet. In 2001, Lieberman introduced the No Taxation Without Representation bill in the Senate. Mayor Williams hasn’t endorsed any candidates, though he has strong ties to Lieberman, dating back to Williams’ early political career in New Haven as an alderman. On Wednesday, Williams told reporters that he hasn’t received calls from any of the presidential contenders.

The Dean campaign hopes to stage a D.C. endorsement rally soon. Meanwhile, the former governor’s forces are pursuing At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil.

LL advises the Dean campaign not to sink too much time into that one.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

On July 8, the D.C. Council killed the city’s employee credit-card program, claiming that unaccountable civil servants were using the cards to make unauthorized and irresponsible purchases. Last week, when Mayor Williams vetoed the legislation, he put certain facts on paper for councilmembers:

One, public-safety agencies, such as the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, rely on the government-issued credit cards to expedite the purchase of parts and service to keep trucks on the road, as well as to buy crucial supplies and equipment.

Two, the Williams administration had already begun to implement changes to the program that the council had requested to ensure better oversight.

And three, Amanda E. Kendall, 12, dominated the 50-meter freestyle in a recent swim competition at George Mason University, with a time of 29.20 in the finals.

Indeed, included in each councilmember’s veto packet were a letter from council secretary Phyllis Jones, the mayor’s veto letter, and pages and pages of swim results from the PVS Long Course 14 & Under Championships at George Mason University July 17-20.

Jones says the swim results originated in the mayor’s office. “I was so taken by the mayor’s veto letter that I didn’t notice there was an attachment that didn’t fit,” explains Jones. “When I got on the dais, [the councilmembers] said, ‘Phyllis, what is this thing attached to the letter?’”

Kendall’s time for the 11-to-12 age range in the finals notwithstanding, the mayor’s strategy to convince councilmembers of the merits of the credit-card program sank like his famous cannonball “dive”: After Williams vetoed the bill on July 29, aides scrambled to lobby councilmembers, including Chairman Cropp, to let the program remain in place.

The effort failed: In an emergency session on July 30, the council voted 11 to 0 to override the veto.

When snafus get exposed in D.C. government agencies, councilmembers relish criticizing department heads and their boss, Mayor Williams. The speech from the fifth-floor D.C. Council chamber goes something like this: The mayor hires and fires. We provide oversight.

Yet the council also approves the mayor’s nominees and bears some responsibility for their performance. In the stories about Greater Southeast Community Hospital last week, Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen commented that Department of Health Director James A. Buford has been overwhelmed by his agency from the get-go.

The council confirms mayoral nominations. Yet if the body takes no action within 90 days of a submission, the nominee is automatically approved.

LL went back in the archives to sort through the marathon hearings that Allen held on Buford’s confirmation. Ooops, there wasn’t much to check: Instead of grilling Buford, Allen let him take over without even a vote. “It was never brought to the full body,” admits Allen. “We had so many things, it just didn’t get there.”

While developer Douglas Jemal remains in dispute with Williams and his administration over bills for air conditioning and rent, he has received an influx of cash courtesy of one city official: Ward 4’s Fenty. According to the councilmember’s July 31 campaign-finance report, Fenty marked “Return to Sender” on a $500 check Jemal contributed on April 18 to Fenty’s 2004 re-election campaign.

“I wanted to preserve a perception of impartiality,” explains Fenty. “When there’s a formal investigation, it’s better to err on the side of caution.” The D.C. Council, as well as the city’s lawyers, the D.C. Inspector General, and the FBI, have been investigating Jemal’s business dealings with the city’s Office of Property Management. Ward 1’s Jim Graham, who is leading the council’s investigation, alleges that Jemal inflated lease prices and stole money from the D.C. government.

That wasn’t Fenty’s only principled stand: He also returned a $100 check from consultant Paul L. Berry, whose clients include Chevron. Fenty explains that a dangerous gas spill involving a Chevron station in Ward 4 persuaded him to return Berry’s money. In all, Fenty raised $121,080 for his re-election efforts next year.

Other incumbents sent signals that they weren’t interested in a challenge in 2004: Ward 2’s Evans raised almost $143,000. And At-Large Councilmember Brazil cashed in with nearly $157,000, including a $500 contribution from Jemal and another $500 from Jemal’s son, Norman Jemal, both given on May 23.

On the vulnerable front, Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous raised just $17,340, a puny cache for a three-term incumbent who will likely face a challenge from Covenant House Executive Director Vincent Gray. Ward 8’s Allen has yet to form an official campaign committee. “Nothing’s off the table,” Allen tells LL.

Mayor Williams added $104,000 to his campaign coffers, yet still owes nearly $44,000 in obligations, including $16,362.02 for the

octopus-like air-conditioning unit installed by Jemal that littered the New York Avenue NW sidewalk outside his campaign office last summer. LL wonders if the former bean counter looks closely at his utility bills: A dozen or so window units from Ward 5’s Home Depot would have been a lot cheaper. CP

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