President Clinton's veto of the District's budget for the coming year has been largely portrayed by Democrats as the result of a united mayor, D.C. Council and control board persuading the president to stick up for D.C. home rule.

But behind the scenes, Democrats have been divided over the strategy employed by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). Some council members, control board members and officials in Mayor Anthony A. Williams's administration privately argued against a veto, saying the $4.7 billion budget is one of the best spending plans for the city to ever come out of Congress.

"I suspect if you polled the council, you'd find a majority against the veto," one council member said. Added a control board member: "I had urged against a veto because of all the good things in the bill." Both officials asked to remain anonymous because they must work with Norton.

Among the good things in the bill for the District are money for waterfront development along the Anacostia River; a tuition assistance program for D.C. students; design work to widen the 14th Street Bridges; funds to wipe out open-air drug markets; and an endorsement of a five-year, $300 million package of income, property and business tax cuts.

Norton acknowledges the bill's benefits, but has said it was necessary to take a stand against various "social riders" that Republicans attached to the bill--such as one to ban the use of marijuana for medical purposes--that she says would weaken the District's right to govern itself. It was on that principle that Norton asked for backing from Clinton and the city's leadership.

Help Finding Job

The District's chief financial officer, Valerie Holt, wasn't about to let her longtime friend Theresa W. Saunders take the fall for the city's Y2K mess. Holt has helped find Saunders a $100,000-a-year job as chief financial officer of the D.C. lottery board.

Some top city officials had criticized Saunders for her role in the poor financial management of the city's year 2000 computer repair program. The city still can't account for $25 million in mostly federal funds spent on the program.

Holt, defending Saunders, said she had assigned Saunders to the information technology office in July; the problems documenting the spending began well before then. But disputes between Holt's office and the information technology agency were so intense that Holt was pressured to remove Saunders and bring in an outside auditor.

"She's getting another good job," Holt promised after removing Saunders. "When you're doing cleanup, it's hard for people to love you."

Latest Chapter on Hearings The plot thickens.

In the first chapter, D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), blasted the superintendent of schools, Arlene Ackerman, for not appearing at various council hearings to testify about her efforts to improve the schools.

Other council members, including David Catania (R-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) would occasionally pipe in, becoming indignant about Ackerman's absence.

Well, turns out that Chavous--who as chairman of the council's education committee has called about a dozen hearings this fall about the school system--was told by Ackerman well in advance that she could not show up for some of the hearings. Ackerman said she informed Chavous early in the fall that his suggested schedule of hearings did not fit in with her calendar.

During a hearing last week on adult education, Ackerman--who did show up this time--let Chavous know in no uncertain terms that she was rather annoyed by his criticism.

"I want to take this opportunity to clear up misunderstandings put forward during recent hearings. First, as you know, Mr. Chairman, I meet with you monthly and speak with you frequently by phone to discuss school district business . . .

"I believe it is important for the citizens of this community, which I also serve, to be clear that my absences at the first few education committee hearings this month were due not to disrespect of your office, but rather to long-standing scheduling conflicts which I shared with you some time ago . . . even putting in writing, by your request, specific meetings I would attend."

Asked about this, Chavous acknowledged this week that Ackerman had asked him to change the date of the first hearing, and then said: "I think there has been sort of some ongoing confusion about the date because we've had a whole lot of hearings. And some of that confusion has filtered down to the staff level. But I think we've worked it out."