A Christmas Clairol

Some powerful friends of Neery Carrillo -- a 54-year-old Honduran immigrant who came to this country 30 years ago and became an American success story -- are rallying to fight the eviction of her hair salon from the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.

Loyal customers such as pundit Robert Novak, former transportation secretary William Coleman and Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have been trying to persuade Hyatt executives to reverse the ruling of local General Manager Michael Smith, who told Carrillo this week that she and fellow stylist Margie McKesser must be out of their 460-square-foot salon off the hotel's parking garage by New Year's Eve. Smith's plans for the space were unclear but yesterday Carrillo told us, "They want it for storage."

Carrillo, who has cut hair in the Hyatt since 1981, said that if she is evicted, she would be out of a job for seven or eight weeks, until a new salon in the Carpenter's Union headquarters building is ready for occupancy. "The loss of income will be devastating," she told us.

Novak, who has written two letters to Hyatt officials in support of Carrillo, told us: "It's really outrageous that this Honduran immigrant, who is a great success story and couldn't speak English when she arrived, is being treated this way. All she's asking for is six more weeks. If they don't let her have it, I will never set foot in this hotel again." We hear that a Kennedy aide recently phoned Smith in an attempt to work things out. "The senator wants to do what he can to help her and thinks what is happening is grossly unfair," Kennedy spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter told us.

But Smith -- who didn't return our phone call seeking comment has apparently been unmoved. Carrillo quoted one of his subordinates as warning her, "Mr. Smith says your friends should keep their noses out of his business."

But Snowe, who will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Small Business Committee next month, remains hopeful. "We're trying to reverse this because Neery is a wonderful small-business owner and we're just looking for fairness so that she can survive while making this transfer," Snowe told us. "She's a woman who is struggling and willing to work as long and as hard as it takes, and we just want to see her treated fairly."

Ripley's Believe It

* Singer-actress Alice Ripley -- the star of the Kennedy Center's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's one-woman musical, "Tell Me on a Sunday" -- has some surprising words of comfort for embattled Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott.

"Look, it doesn't get more liberal than me. I am sooo liberal," Ripley told us yesterday. "But my first reaction is: Give the guy a break. . . . I just met Trent Lott the weekend before last at the White House as part of the Kennedy Center Honors, before everything hit the fan," she added, describing the Mississippian who made the Strom Thurmond gaffe as "a tall, good-looking guy."

Ripley went on: "I'm very tolerant and try to be open to other people's ideas. But the thing is, people make mistakes. Lott is a public official and he has to choose his words so carefully. But he's only human. I seriously doubt that when he went to this party honoring Strom Thurmond that he was there to say the wrong thing. I put myself in that situation, and I think of all the times I've said something stupid in public."

We're sure Lott will now want to see Ripley's performance at the Eisenhower Theater. He has till Jan. 12.


* Vietnam flashback: Former Nixon White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan dropped his cultural conservatism yesterday and sputtered a eight-letter bovine expletive during a heated debate on-air with Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg on Buchanan's MSNBC show. As "Buchanan and Press" co-host Bill Press looked on, Buchanan argued that Ellsberg, a former Marine and adviser to the anti-communist South Vietnamese army, was responsible for thousands of American deaths by undermining U.S. Vietnam policy with his famous top-secret document drop. At which point Ellsberg needled Buchanan, "You didn't manage to make it [to Vietnam], did you?" Buchanan, 64, replied, "No, I was in the White House." Ellsberg: "You had a football knee." Buchanan: "I didn't play football." Ellsberg: "You weren't in the White House during those years. You were of draft age." Buchanan: "That's [bleep]!" Ellsberg: "Really? Correct me if I'm wrong." Buchanan: "You're wrong!"

* Publishing offers for "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert's first book, advertised as a warm look at fathers and sons, were reportedly reaching the $2 million range in an auction stoked by lawyer Robert Barnett. "You know, I'm not doing this for the money," Russert told us yesterday. "I've been blessed, and I'm just trying to deliver the lessons my dad taught me and the things I learned growing up in Buffalo." Russert -- whose book, tentatively titled "Big Russ and Me," is due out Father's Day 2004 -- said some of the proceeds will go to the Boys and Girls Club.