Don't Mess With Mr. Rove!

We've always found Karl Rove to be the most amiable of men -- at a crowded Washington party last year, he offered to hold our wineglass for us so we could give our full attention to a groaning plate of food -- but President Bush's political guru apparently isn't always so accommodating.

In their soon-to-be published biography "Bush's Brain," Texas journalists Wayne Slater and Jim Moore recount the range war between Rove and dentist Joe Neely, his next-door neighbor in suburban Austin, over Rove's construction of a garage near the property line. Neely, who didn't respond to our detailed message yesterday, told the authors that after coming home one day to find a surprising building project yards from his front door, he complained to Rove, who assured Neely that trees would be planted to block the view. "But when builders began erecting a second story, an apparent violation of deed restrictions," Neely called a lawyer, the book states.

Rove summoned Neely and his lawyer to his house for a powwow with Rove and his lawyer, the book continues. The session went badly. When Neely refused to agree to the garage, Rove "started yelling and screaming and demanding I get off his property and never speak to him again." Rove, wife Darby and son Andrew ceased going to Neely for dental care.

Several months later, Rove left a message on Neely's answering machine about a dead tree on Neely's side of the property line: "Tear down that tree." Neely complied, but he and Rove didn't speak for years afterward -- until Rove phoned to complain that Neely was trimming bluebonnets on his land. Rove demanded a "high noon" meeting at the property line. Neely apologized: "I'm sorry about what happened five years ago with your garage. I'm sorry about your bluebonnets. But I've had it with you calling and leaving pugnacious, vitriolic messages on my answering machine."

The book continues: " 'You just don't get it,' said Rove.

" 'Get what?'

" 'What you said to me five years ago.'

"Neely did not know what he was talking about.

" 'You said you moved out here to get away from people like me.' . . . Neely denied ever saying anything like that."

" 'Now you're calling me a liar, huh?' "

Rove, one of the most powerful players in the Bush White House, declined to offer a comment for this item. But a source familiar with Rove's thinking told us that he had invited Neely to dinner where the garage plans were discussed before construction, and Rove moved the site when the dentist objected. The source insisted that Neely did make the "people like you" remark, and had ventured far onto Rove's property to "mow down wildflowers."

The late Tip O'Neill probably put it best: All politics is local.

The Ski Trip That Wasn't

* Tongues from Washington to New York have been wagging about a Christmas holiday invitation to Aspen that Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Arabian ambassador, extended to New York Times correspondent Patrick Tyler and his family.

Tyler is among a select group of journalists who enjoy a close relationship with the well-connected Bandar, who owns an eyepopping 55,000-square foot ski lodge at the exclusive Colorado resort. Tyler was the only reporter to interview Bandar amid the recent controversy surrounding wife Princess Haifa's charitable donations to a Saudi man with terrorist connections. "I wouldn't be surprised if Bandar invited him to Aspen, because he invites half the world to Aspen," a knowledgeable source told us yesterday.

Tyler, for his part, confirmed Bandar's invitation, but said it was professional, not social. "This invitation was for an interview in advance of a possible war," he said. "The suggestion that it be a family trip prompted me to raise it internally [at the Times]. They considered it, I considered it, and we turned it down."

Tyler said the decision to decline was made before he found himself fielding press inquiries from The Washington Post and later the Village Voice. He said he went ahead with longstanding plans to vacation with his family in West Virginia. "We didn't hear about anyone being interested in our Christmas vacation plans until we were packing our car for West Virginia," he said.

The Axis of Frum

Former White House speechwriter David Frum left the job a year ago, a few weeks after his wife, writer Danielle Crittenden, sent out a mass e-mail crediting her husband with President Bush's description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." He has been busy since his departure writing an insider account of the notoriously secretive Bush White House.

Frum's memoir, "The Right Man," is generally very admiring of Bush -- "a good man who is not a weak man," he writes, and a man of "decency, honesty, rectitude, courage and tenacity." But Frum confides: "He has many faults. He is impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader probably should be." Frum, a native Canadian, adds that before 9/11, "George Bush was not on his way to a very successful presidency. . . . Bush's political vision was unclear. . . . Above all, Bush lacked a big organizing idea." Yesterday White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told us: "I will add it to the list of books that I don't have time to read. One day I hope I will. I just hope it stimulates the economy and creates jobs."