S ometime in the next few months -- if Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. Council stand tall for the city's right to hold next year's first presidential primary -- we're going to be treated to the most spectacular confrontation in the history of the District's battle for basic rights.

The entire council and the mayor support the brilliant tactic dreamed up by voting-rights activists Tim Cooper and Sean Tenner: Hold our primary Jan. 13, ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa, and force the candidates, the media and the nation to face this city's disenfranchisement.

Of course, the Democratic and Republican parties are aghast at such gall, and Congress would surely stomp on any such attempt to flex our muscles. Bring it on: For once, it'd be a blast to watch our overseers on the Hill overturn a District law.

Because, as council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) explained at a hearing yesterday, if Congress forbids us from holding our primary, we just go right ahead and hold it anyway. Let them arrest us as we vote. Let them bar our delegates at the conventions. Whatever they do, we win.

And it's not the parties' decision; only the council can set an election date.

"This is about our children having the same dreams as the rest of America," said council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5). "Our children can't dream of being a senator, can't dream of being in Congress."

Skeptics say candidates wouldn't bother campaigning here -- too few votes to matter. Nonsense: You can be certain that every Democrat would pay the D.C. primary extra attention in 2004, if only to prevent Al Sharpton from winning the year's first vote.

"I started on this issue in my twenties, and I used to joke and say, 'Voting rights within my lifetime,' " said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). "Now I'm pushing 60, and I'm not so sure we'll get voting rights in my lifetime. But I know my children don't live in this city, and one reason is they don't have voting rights."

No American should have to move to win the most basic of rights. Set the date, then let the battle begin.

When it snows, no one expects mail. At my house, we haven't had any since Friday -- yes, the storm started Sunday, but the thought of snow is enough to halt delivery.

But we do have expectations of other institutions, so it's good to be able to report that in the same city in which Marion Barry once assigned primary plowing duties to the Almighty, a remarkable number of side streets -- though obviously not all -- were plowed by yesterday morning. Even if our politically tone-deaf mayor was in Puerto Rico at the start of the storm, his reforms in Public Works appear to be making progress. It was also cheering to see Maryland's governor set the right tone with his threat of $1,000 fines for folks who endangered others by taking joy rides at the height of the storm.

But two local institutions have descended to the level of the Postal Service -- Metro and the schools. The transit system continues to pretend that we live in the tropics: Metro says it lacks the equipment needed to respond as well as New York or Philadelphia. Bulletin: It snows here every winter.

The real problem is management: Metro only protected 70 rail cars against the storm by parking them in tunnels that had space for twice that many. And the system didn't start using its heavy-duty track de-icers until late Sunday night -- way too late.

The schools once again have decided to teach children that the proper response to a challenge is to freeze up and play dead. The area's big systems yesterday announced, even as the snow was melting before our eyes, that schools would stay closed today and beyond. Let kids walk, let parents drive their children to school, and yes, let those who'd rather stay home do so without penalty -- but open the schools.

Forget the clogged side streets argument: In much of Montgomery yesterday, trash was picked up on schedule. Defenders of school closing jump in here to say, 'Ah, but if one child is hurt getting to school . . . ' Please. Kids by the thousands instead are staging snowball fights in the streets. The bigger problem is frustrated parents, like my friend Ann, who says, "I have found a use for last week's duct tape. It's going on the kid's mouth."

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