I Left My Wallet in Washington

"My favorite Tony Bennett song is 'Rags to Riches,' " House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt told us the other day. Hardly a shock, considering that the Missouri Democrat has been scooping up campaign dollars in hopes of toppling the GOP in the next election and becoming speaker of the House. What's surprising is that the 72-year-old crooner, beloved of Republicans and Democrats alike, is donating his singing voice to a million-dollar fund-raiser for Gephardt and House Democrats, to be held Aug. 2 at the Mayflower Hotel. Bennett was going to talk to us about all this, but, his publicist said, he changed his mind.

"I met him at a White House dinner about five years ago. My wife and I sat next to his son Danny and we hit it off," said Gephardt, who was introduced to Bennett's records by brother Don Gephardt, a professional clarinetist and music professor. "I think we struck up a real friendship mainly because I like his music, and I told him I liked it. I didn't even know Tony was a Democrat, but it became clear in talking to him. In 1996, I invited him to come to St. Louis for a fund-raising event for my campaign, and he did a great job, singing 30 minutes of his top hits."

Bennett's signature tunes include "Stranger in Paradise," "Put On a Happy Face" and, of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." But Gephardt's fave--which opens with the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross lyric "I know I'd go from rags to riches if you would only say you care. And though my pocket may be empty, I'd be a millionaire"--is probably the most fitting for an evening for which folks will be shaken down for up to $40,000 apiece.

Tales of the Interns

* In the summer of 1963, Joe Lieberman was a 21-year-old intern for Sen. Abe Ribicoff (D-Conn.), living in a grungy Capitol Hill group house with fellow Yalies, sticking to a kosher diet and learning the ways of the world. "It was the first time I'd ever seen cockroaches," recalls Lieberman, who made his discovery while doing push-ups. On the other hand, he tells us, "I was awestruck, thrilled, to be in the capital" when his hero John F. Kennedy was beckoning a new generation to public service.

Lieberman wrote speeches for Ribicoff, handled correspondence, schlepped coffee and sorted mail. One of his first assignments was to write a speech for a Senate prayer breakfast on the topic "Is the God of the Old Testament a God of Vengeance?" Lieberman also recalls fashioning a tactful letter "to the best friends of man's best friend"--declining an invitation for Ribicoff to attend a veterinarians' convention. Now 57 and a senator himself, Lieberman says interning remains an honorable pursuit, never mind Monica Lewinsky: "That was an extraordinary exception, to put it mildly."

A Hairy Situation

* Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has a budding beard, and wife Barbara "is not enthusiastic, nor supportive," he told us yesterday. Too bad. Richardson, who began sprouting facial hairs 10 days ago during a Cape Cod vacation, is bent on sprouting more of them. "It's part of my Depart- ment of Energy security evalua- tion," said Richard- son, whose depart- ment has been rife with allegations of lax security and nuclear espionage. "I'm going to try to go to some of our sites and not be recognized so I can assess our security initiatives."

For those who find that hard to believe, the 52-year-old Richardson has an alternative explanation: "I've always wanted to grow a beard. I've never done it before. I decided not to shave for a couple of days, started liking what I saw and said 'I'm gonna grow a beard once in my life.' " Plus, he said, "Not shaving saves me 50 minutes a week."

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Would-be muggers beware: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) won't be satisfied with just aiming his gun at your knees in self-defense. "I don't shoot anything I don't eat," Cunningham told fellow members of the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, explaining his support for the continued importation of "large-capacity" ammo clips, reports The Post's Juliet Eilperin.

* Having purchased the Monica Lewinsky apartment next door at the Watergate, Bob Dole and presidential candidate-wife Elizabeth are knocking down walls. "We will have to move out for a while while they renovate our apartment and literally go through the walls and connect the two apartments," Elizabeth Dole told C-SPAN.

* Say what? Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who wrestled professionally as "The Body," bristled yesterday at suggestions that returning to the ring for the World Wrestling Federation's Aug. 22 "SummerSlam" isn't worthy of his office. "There's no rule that says a governor can't have fun," he said.

CAPTION: Bennett, set to croon for Democrats.

CAPTION: Gephardt, set to reap the benefits.

CAPTION: Lieberman in 1963, preparing to follow Sen. Ribicoff's lead.

CAPTION: Richardson, trying a new look.

CAPTION: Ventura, when he was "The Body."