This has been a big week for Tip O'Neill.
It's not every 48-hour period in your life that you get elected Speaker of the House, win a prestigious award and then have 600 of your party's finest surprise you with a birthday cake and off-key singing. He turns 72 on Sunday.
"It's going to be a great two years," said the man who Monday was unanimously reelected to lead the Democrats in Congress for one final stint.
Last night, O'Neill was clearly the star performer at the Center for National Policy's annual awards dinner, as well as one of the three award recipients. He even eclipsed Warren Beatty -- quite unusual in a town that always gasps for breath when a movie star surfaces. That's not to say, of course, that you couldn't hear a napkin drop when Beatty spoke.
"I didn't come here tonight to imitate that other older actor who has made a profound impact on the conservative movement," said Beatty, pausing for effect. And then, he said, "Georgie Jessel." The crowd roared.
Beatty is an active board member of the center, an exclusive and liberal think tank founded to study alternatives to domestic and foreign policy. In addition to O'Neill, this year's award winners were Joyce Miller, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the first woman elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, and Ruben Mettler, chairman and CEO of TRW Inc.
Among the guests were outgoing chairman Cyrus Vance, new chairman Edmund Muskie, Adlai Stevenson III, Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.), and Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.), whom O'Neill christened his successor as speaker.
"No question about it -- it will be Jim Wright," said O'Neill.
Wright dismissed any suggestion that he might be challenged in 1986 by a young maverick Democrat. "I haven't heard of any race yet," he said. "But then again, another candidate might not solicit my support."
In the end, Wright led the crowd in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for O'Neill, and the speaker delivered his first of many swan songs.