Mortimer Zuckerman made his social debut as a publisher here last night at an event billed as U.S. News & World Report's tribute to the new members of Congress. But no one was fooled.

It's been three months since the Boston builder assumed control of the news magazine, and the atmosphere among the cocktail meatballs and pin stripes was not much different from a coming-out celebration.

"Welcome to Washington!" said Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), a newcomer in some respects, to Zuckerman. "And thanks for helping to get me here."

Zuckerman held court like a prom king, greeting new congressmen in the atrium of the magazine's new building on N Street, which he built, of course.

"Well, actually not -- this is not really a coming-out party," he said. "The idea is to meet and develop a dialogue with people in government. It's a question of being involved . . . Yes, the magazine has had a lower profile."

Among those on hand last night were Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Rep. Robert Michel (R-Ill.), Rep. Dean Gallo (R-N.J.), and Rep. Albert Bustamante (D-Tex.).

They all insisted they read U.S. News regularly.

"Well, you're not going to be electrified by it," said Michel. "If you want to be entertained, it's not for you. But as I just told Mort, it was required reading when I was in Econ 101, and I have read it ever since. And all my children read it, too. Of course, the three boys do. They went to Yale. And Laurie, at Smith."

Zuckerman became interested in the magazine -- known as a chronicler of economics and government -- when he won the contract on the building. He later won the bidding for the employe-owned company, in a tight competition, and closed the deal last October. He paid $176.3 million in an arrangement that made some long-term employes rich.

A shrewd businessman who also publishes the Atlantic Monthly, Zuckerman, it is widely believed, plans to give U.S. News a much stronger public presence here. He has already made two high-profile hires: Harold Evans, former editor of London's Sunday Times, and Kathy Bushkin, the well-regarded spokesman for Sen. Gary Hart's presidential campaign last year.

"U.S. News has been under a modest bushel for a while," said Evans.

Also there was outgoing editor Marvin Stone, who is rumored to be heading for the U.S. Information Agency as deputy to Director Charles Wick.

"No formal offer has been made yet, but we have talked," said Stone.

And what of the talk that he will replace Wick?

"That," he said, "I will not even entertain addressing . . . We have never discussed that."

The place was overflowing with lobbyists, advertisers and fresh-faced congressional aides just getting their feet wet on the party circuit.

"The thing about Washington," said one, swallowing a large bite of chicken, "is that it's just like college."

And the session has only just begun.