New York investment banker Stephen A. Schwarzman, president and CEO of the Blackstone Group, has emerged as the leading candidate for chairmanship of the Kennedy Center, according to sources familiar with the process.

Schwarzman, 57, runs a firm that has invested more than $60 billion in scores of companies across the globe. The Financial Times of London last week called him "one of the most powerful dealmakers in the world." A Fortune magazine feature on him last summer suggested he was one of the country's smartest investors and pronounced him "the biggest winner on Wall Street."

Schwarzman's name was forwarded last night to the Kennedy Center executive committee. If the committee recommends him for the post, the full board is scheduled to consider Schwarzman in a special telephone conference tonight, according to a source.

The job at the center has been vacant since James A. Johnson, a longtime Washington political operative and financier, stepped down last year after almost eight years on the job. The position involves developing overall policy for the center and playing an important role in fundraising. Michael Kaiser, the center's president, oversees the day-to-day and artistic direction of the complex.

News that Schwarzman was a leading contender for the job began to circulate last night; Schwarzman and officials of the Kennedy Center could not be reached. Tiki Davies, spokesman for the center, said she could not comment.

As well as overseeing management of the center, the national center for the performing arts, Johnson gave generously to programs there. Along with his wife, Maxine Isaacs, he founded and helped underwrite the center's free Millennium Stage performances.

The new chairman will face the a critical task of completing a campaign to raise $250 million for two new buildings that will grace a federally funded plaza connecting the center to the Mall. Since Johnson stepped down, Alma Powell, the author, fundraiser and wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Kenneth Duberstein, former presidential chief of staff for Ronald Reagan, have been interim chairmen of the center's board.

Schwarzman has been a principal on the New York financial scene since the 1970s. In 1978 he was elected managing director of Lehman Brothers. He was only 31.

He founded the Blackstone Group in 1985 with Peter G. Peterson, a former secretary of commerce. According to the Blackstone Web site, the company started with $400,000 and four employees.

Born during the heyday of corporate raiders and hostile takeovers, the company decided it would "would only invest capital in strictly friendly situations, supporting strong management teams," according to the Web site.

The privately held Blackstone buys companies, or a stake in them, then sells those positions at a profit. It has been particularly successful in restructuring failing companies. It is currently looking for ways to salvage some value from the assets of Enron for the corporation's creditors.

Schwarzman attended Yale University at the same time as President Bush and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Public Library, New York City Ballet and Harvard Business School Visiting Committee.

His name has been mentioned as a possible treasury secretary in a second Bush administration.

According to the 2003 feature on Schwarzman in Fortune:

"Steve and Christine Schwarzman live in a jaw-dropping Park Avenue triplex they bought from fallen insurance mogul Saul Steinberg for some $30 million in March 2001. (Schwarzman sold his previous residence to none other than Dennis Kozlowski -- er, make that Tyco? -- for $18 million.) Once owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr., Schwarzman's 20,000-square-foot apartment has 35 rooms, including a gym; a steam room; a sauna; a billiards room; a screening room; and servants' quarters that feature a dining room, three bedrooms, and two baths. For Schwarzman's 55th birthday, an entire floor was decorated to look like his favorite restaurant in St-Tropez (where he owns another home). 'It is a $100 million apartment,' says an individual who's been there and who knows the market well. 'That's the value of the apartment, plus the work and the art he has put in. The [Cy] Twombly is worth $5 million alone.' "

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this article.

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, said to be in the running for the Kennedy Center chairmanship.