Snyder May Give Company the Ax; Redskins Owner May Sell Communications Firm

It looks like Daniel Snyder might buy himself more time with his beloved Redskins by selling the company that made his purchase of the team possible.

After an undisclosed advertising agency recently offered to buy Snyder Communications Inc., the 35-year-old magnate and other officials authorized investment bank Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown to seek offers for the company, sources said.

That move comes as Snyder Communications has taken a pounding on Wall Street. The company's stock lost two-thirds of its value from April 1998 to last week, and a spinoff and other corporate maneuvers failed to produce the desired effect. The stock did climb more than $3 a share in one day, however, to $19, after the company confirmed it was seeking offers.

"Look at how he's dealt with the Redskins. He doesn't like public failure at anything," a source said of Snyder. "He's ready to move on."

Snyder allows that his interest in the team has "intensified" lately, as the team battles for its first playoff appearance since the Joe Gibbs era. "I'm totally involved and want it to work," he said two weeks ago. "It's the best thing I've ever done. I love the challenge, and I promise I'll get this right."

If he sold his holdings in Snyder Communications for $25 a share or more, he'd get at least $250 million. Analysts said that would be plenty to keep the wolves from his door.

Columbia Heights Plan Spares Historic Theater

The show might go on at the Tivoli Theatre, after all.

District Mayor Anthony A. Williams and council members patched up a disagreement over a plan to redevelop the Columbia Heights neighborhood, repositioning a proposed supermarket so the historic theater would have a better chance of being restored to its former glory.

Area on Alert for Holidays; Terrorist Threat, Y2K Worries Loom

With all the talk of terrorists and technological torment, the Washington area is on high alert as the millennium winds down.

"We stepped up [security] a couple days ago when the rhetoric stepped up," D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said after foreigners with suspected terrorist ties were picked up in Washington state and Vermont. Closer to home, reports surfaced that the District is among the U.S. cities possibly targeted for terrorism.

So intelligence workers are on alert, U.S. Park Police officers are increasingly visible around key sites, and members of the D.C. bomb squad will be pulling 12-hour days. At Dulles International Airport, postal inspectors are screening packages from Germany, after the FBI warned that mail bombs may have been sent from Frankfurt.

But Washington is no stranger to such vigilance. At the FBI, spokeswoman Elisa Foster noted that preparing for disaster is old hat. The only real difference the millennium brings is a slight boost in the number of complaints the agency checks out, she said.

City officials said that as far as they know, no threats have been made against the District, and they're urging visitors to flock to the millennium mega-bash on the Mall. Will Smith is headlining a show at the Lincoln Memorial, and President Clinton is to set off a fireworks display at midnight.

And then, there are always year 2000 computer glitch issues to set the citizenry on edge. But Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) reassured residents that all 378 critical city computer systems will roll over seamlessly into 2000.

"We can all focus on enjoying the holidays and celebrating the millennium," Williams said. All the same, don't count on the mayor to be partaking of the partying. He'll be on the lookout for possible Y2K trouble, just in case.

"I'm sure everyone will be watching, from the president on down," he said. "You've got to do that. You're always on the job."

Md. Court Rules on Jury Bias; Prejudice Questioning Expanded

It used to be that prospective jurors in Maryland could be questioned about possible racial biases only in "special circumstances," such as when the case had racial overtones.

But the state's highest court ruled last week that lawyers must be allowed to question jurors about racial prejudices in any criminal case. The Maryland Court of Appeals, going further on the issue than the U.S. Supreme Court has, ruled that a juror's biases--rather than the crime itself--can determine whether a defendant receives a fair trial.

The appeals court ruled that the judge didn't screen the jury pool sufficiently for racial bias in the 1998 Montgomery Circuit Court trial of Jorge Fernandez, who was accused of having sex with a 9-year-old girl. The girl, like Hernandez, is Hispanic. The unanimous ruling overturned his convictions on second-degree rape and child abuse charges.

The judges "are saying that [racial and ethnic bias] literally could be in any case," said Gary Blair, chief of the criminal appeals division for the Maryland attorney general's office, which had fought to uphold the convictions.

Across the Region

Teen Convicted; Olympic Lawsuit

* A teenage girl was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of a Woodbridge woman who had asked the girl and her friends to move their car so she could drive to church. Kurebia Maria Hampton, 17, was the second teenager convicted in the June death of Natalie Giles Davis, who had two young children.

* In another sign that some Washington suburbs are growing too fast for their own comfort, Howard County's leader wants to tighten limits on new homes when elementary schools in the area are crowded. Already, developers in the county can't build houses if the local elementary school is 20 percent over its stated capacity. A bill by County Executive James N. Robey (D) would lower that to 15 percent.

* David Stratmon was still wearing a jail-issued jumpsuit when he commandeered a woman's car in Chevy Chase and drove off with her infant daughter still strapped into the back seat. Stratmon, 19, who had been out of the D.C. jail for less than 24 hours, dragged the woman for 300 feet in March as she clung to the Honda Accord. Declaring that "society has a right to be protected," a judge sent him back behind bars--for 25 years.

* Whither Linda R. Tripp? Will Monica S. Lewinsky's former friend be convicted or cleared of charges that she illegally recorded a phone conversation with President Clinton's paramour? You'll have to stay tuned. Her wiretapping trial won't begin in a Howard County courtroom until July, after she waived her right to a speedy trial. That maneuver allows her attorneys to file more legal challenges to the case.

* A Jehovah's Witness who lost her job at the Fort Belvoir Commissary after refusing to sign a loyalty oath is suing the U.S. government. Michelle Hall, 36, of Lake Ridge, believes that a clause vowing "I will bear true faith and allegiance" to the Constitution would clash with her allegiance to Jehovah. The oath is required of almost all 1.8 million permanent federal employees.

* Multi-tasking has never been so efficient. Do you drive on the Capital Beltway while talking on your cell phone? Before too long, you may also be helping to track traffic patterns in the region. Early next year, Maryland and Virginia will become the first states to measure highway congestion by picking up cell phone signals. But don't worry--officials emphasize that they won't be able to monitor phone calls or identify callers.

* The 2012 Summer Olympics are still but a dot on the horizon, but for some, the competition has already begun. A promoter who sought to lead Washington's bid for the Summer Games filed suit after her exploratory panel was replaced by one that combines Washington's and Baltimore's efforts to land the games. Elizabeth Ganzi's suit "isn't going to help" the region's joint effort, a member of the coalition board says.

-- Erica Johnston