About 700 local business leaders were gathered in the Washington Hilton ballroom on Thursday to listen to a big-name speaker at the annual meeting of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The lunch plates had been cleared, the routine business of approving new members of the board of directors was completed, and the crowd was ready to listen to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talk about collaboration among federal and state officials and business leaders in disaster preparation.

The board's chairman for 2006, Wachovia Corp. regional president Samuel A. Schreiber, stood up and said, "I understand Secretary Chertoff will be here in a moment."

He turned the microphone over to the Board of Trade's 2005 chairman, Hilton Hotels area vice president William H. Edwards Jr., who acted peeved. "You know, Sam," Edwards said jokingly, "I do my banking at SunTrust, and maybe this is why."

Schreiber had left it to Edwards to deliver the bad news: Chertoff had canceled at the last minute.

Scott Weber, a senior counsel to Chertoff who spoke in his place, apologized profusely for Chertoff's absence and said, "He was en route here and got a call from the White House." Perhaps recognizing the alarm it might cause to hear that the homeland security secretary had been summoned for a meeting urgent enough to leave a ballroom full of executives in the lurch, Weber added, "There's nothing to worry about, though."

A Homeland Security Department spokesperson wouldn't elaborate Friday on the topic of the White House meeting.

At its annual meeting, the regional chamber of commerce said Barbara J. Krumsiek is in line to become chairman in 2007. Assuming that the Board of Trade's directors approve the nomination tomorrow, Krumsiek will spend 2006 as chairman-elect. She is president and chief executive of Calvert Group Ltd., a manager of "socially responsible" mutual funds.

Barbara J. Krumsiek