Correction to This Article
An item in the Feb. 10 Reliable Source column incorrectly identified the former White House spokesman who was at a gathering Feb. 2 at Degrees bar in Georgetown. He was Joe Lockhart, not Mike McCurry. McCurry did not attend.

Dennis Haysbert, the Black Caucus's President Expert

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, February 10, 2006

This is what a television role as the first black president, on Fox's "24," has done for veteran character actor Dennis Haysbert .

In downtown D.C., strangers greet him as "President Palmer!" Others approach and ask him, half seriously, to think about running.

And as he took the podium for a Q&A at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner Wednesday, he fielded the kinds of questions you'd expect to go to a candidate -- prison reform, voting rights, drug rehabilitation -- and he was more than prepared to answer.

"I'm very pro-military," he said in that deep and reassuring rumble. "I don't like the way they're deployed."

Haysbert, 51, was the draw for an event kicking off the campaign to build both a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and a Smithsonian museum for African American history on the Mall. His role on "24" -- which appears to have ended with Palmer's assassination in this season's first episode -- may have made history, but he bemoaned the shortage of strong black role models in movies and other TV shows: " 'Hustle & Flow,' it's an amazing movie, but come on! It's a pimp trying to become a rapper!"

We couldn't help but wonder if Haysbert felt overidentified with his presidential role -- might he end up typecast? Well, if so, it's in a good way. He disclosed that he has just been cast as another president -- Nelson Mandela -- in a new movie, "Goodbye Bafana," by Danish director Bille August . He's also filming a role as an FBI agent in "Breach," the Robert Hanssen drama now shooting in Vienna; next month he'll star in a new CBS drama, "The Unit."

But . . . is President Palmer really dead?

"Oh yeah," he said sadly. "Unless it turns out Jack Bauer is just having a dream."

One Vote the Dems Keep Winning

There was a time when the Grammys' best spoken-word album would pretty reliably put us in a black-leotard-and-Birkenstocks kind of mood -- poems by Rod McKuen and Shakespeare recitations by John Gielgud and all that. Punk-poet Henry Rollins even picked up one a couple years ago for -- well, that stuff he does.

But a whole new contingent has a stranglehold on the prize now -- we'll call it the Democratic Audio-Book-of-the-Month Club. Wednesday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) seized the prize for his recording of his best-selling memoir, "Dreams From My Father," following in the footsteps of '04 winner Bill Clinton (for his own memoir) and '03's Al Franken (for the audio version of "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them"). Obama beat out Garrison Keillor , George Carlin , Sean Penn reading Bob Dylan's "Chronicles," and another offering from Franken.

Obama was not present at the ceremony to accept his award (unlike '96 winner Hillary Rodham Clinton , who raced back from New York just in time for a state dinner). He didn't even watch it on TV, said his spokesman, Tommy Vietor .

The senator's reaction: "I'm going for an Emmy next year, best supporting actor in a drama starring John McCain ." Ha! But that kind of blocks our joke about McCain winning an Emmy for best cameo in "24."

The Rock Star Husband Is Always the Last to Know

Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora appeared to have no idea that his wife, Heather Locklear , had filed divorce papers several hours after her publicist announced the news.

Sambora partied with a clatch of political operatives, including former White House spokesman Mike McCurry , in a roped-off section of Georgetown's Degrees bar after the band's Feb. 2 MCI Center show. A politico who was inside the rope tells us that the veteran rocker was chatting and drinking happily and was often approached by very friendly ladies -- but that he told them, on more than one occasion, "Sorry, I'm married."

"I honestly think he had no idea," our source said. The account sheds some light on a strange interview Sambora gave earlier that night to ABC Radio in which he adamantly denied reports of a split. Neither Sambora's publicist nor Locklear's returned our calls.

Hello, Johnny!

(Courtesy Of George Washington University)
Hey, how come no one invited us to this party? Chief Justice John Roberts and Broadway institution Carol Channing crossed paths on the campus of George Washington University yesterday, where he was presiding over a law school moot court competition and she was performing for the school's 185th birthday. She autographed an old photo for him and posed with him for a new one. "She was ecstatic to meet him," said GWU spokeswoman Tracy Schario, "and he seemed equally pleased to be meeting her."

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