Hint: He Left His Art in . . . the Smithsonian

An oil painting by Anthony Benedetto has been formally accepted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum for its permanent collection. This tidbit might have escaped the notice of a less cultured art patron, who would recognize the artist only by his better known moniker: Tony Bennett, who's picking up a Kennedy Center Honors later this week.

The singer, 79, signs his art with the old family name. The watercolor landscapes start at $10,000; his oils have fetched as much as $60,000. Celebrity collectors include Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric. Bennett was the guest speaker at the museum's annual Director's Circle dinner in September and recently donated "Central Park" -- which, like any gift, had to be approved by a Smithsonian committee to become part of the permanent collection. (Unclear if or when we'll see the painting on display; the museum has been closed for renovations and will reopen in July.)

But can he paint? We turned to our resident expert, Post art critic Blake Gopnik:

"I guess Tony's got a chance at being our American Michelangelo. The problem is, he's got some competition: I once saw Tony Curtis in a beret with a brush, and the late, great Tony Quinn, limner and thespian par excellence, put them both to shame. Maybe the museum could gang them in a single show called 'Hollywood's Three Graces.' Or 'The Three Tonys' Tony Art.' "

Throw in Tony Soprano and we're totally there.

YOU BE THE GOSSIP!

A stern warning arrives in the mail: Your gossip license has been suspended for failure to feature heiress Paris Hilton in your column's two-month history. (A passing reference to her million-dollar appearance fees is deemed insufficient.) Do you:

a) Protest that she's famous for being famous and refuse to waste ink until her next unauthorized sex video?

b) Lament that her little dog, Tinkerbell, has been replaced with a pet kinkajou monkey called Baby Luv that attacked her recently while the celebutante was spending $4,000 for Agent Provocateur underwear?

c) Report she has broken up with Greek millionaire boyfriend Stavros Niarchos after breaking up with Greek millionaire fiance Paris Latsis?

d) Warn readers about the computer worm with the attachments promising Hilton clips -- "This one is virulent and will reproduce itself easily but does not have much of a payload," said an anti-virus specialist.

e) Reveal her Christmas heartbreak? "I believed in Santa Claus until I was 17, when some mean person told me it wasn't true," she told Shop Etc. magazine.

f) Accept your fate, quit the business and embark on a new career as a reality show contestant consultant?

READERS TELL US

Long Beach, Calif., says: I've noticed that more and more personal ads include "must not be a Bush fan" or "no Republicans please." I wonder if a suave good-looking guy could get a date with a singles-ad placer if he revealed that he'd voted for Bush. Do Republicans post in GOP-only sites?

Hey, we'd wondered the same thing! Because a, uh, friend who's tried the whole online-dating thing said she sees a lot of this.

We asked a pioneer of the industry, Rufus Griscom, CEO of Nerve.com, which recently sold its massive Spring Street Internet-personals network. He confirmed a blueward slant among its million-plus members, nearly 70 percent of whom poll as Democrats. Republicans, he speculated, may lean toward traditional models of dating, "reluctant to interact online."

Griscom also noted that in these polarized times, "people like to be around people who make them feel correct. There's a limited willingness to be challenged on a daily basis."

Scanlon's Political Past: Franks for the Memories

The sad thing about 35-year-old lobbyist Michael Scanlon pleading guilty to bribery charges last week in the ongoing Jack Abramoff scandal is that it's less likely he'll ever resume his once-promising career as a colorful small-town politico.

Indeed, a review of Scanlon's late-'90s stint as a boy-wonder council member in the town of Kensington (pop. 1,873) suggests the former Hill staffer also coulda been a contendah on the national stage.

He had a flair for getting out the vote, distributing free hot dogs and sodas on Election Day in June 1997. ("We gave them to people after they voted so we're not influencing them," his wife, Carrie Anne, told reporters.)

He also was a master of political rhetoric. "This is by far the worst piece of legislation in the history of man," he told the Montgomery Gazette in August 1998, regarding a county proposal to regulate antique stores.

But by December 1998, it was all over. After a resident complained that he had missed 12 of 25 meetings in the previous year, Scanlon resigned amid a council investigation. "I believe I can be more effective as an active citizen," he said at the time, "than as an elected official."