As the candidates begin to line up for the 2006 race for D.C. mayor, incumbent Anthony A. Williams holds a narrow advantage over Council member Adrian M. Fenty in citywide polls of likely Democratic voters conducted for exploratory committees formed by Fenty and two other potential challengers.

All three polls show Williams (D) and Fenty (D-Ward 4) drawing the support of about a third of those surveyed, with Williams leading by a few percentage points in most hypothetical matchups, sources in the three camps said.

Other potential challengers -- including Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) -- trailed Williams and Fenty, the sources said. With the mayor's name included, only about 10 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Evans if the election were held today, sources said. Orange, lobbyist Michael A. Brown and former D.C. Democratic Party chairman A. Scott Bolden were even farther back.

The only other potential contender to show significant strength was Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who rises to second place behind Fenty when Williams is removed from the equation, according to sources. Neither Cropp nor Williams has said whether they plan to run for mayor in 2006. Fenty formally announced his candidacy June 1.

While the results appear at first blush to offer encouragement to Williams, sources in all three camps said their polls show the mayor is extremely vulnerable, particularly among African American voters.

In Fenty's poll -- a survey of 800 likely Democratic voters conducted in May by pollster Peter D. Hart -- fewer than a third of those surveyed said Williams deserves to be re-elected, according to an internal memo prepared by the pollster. Among black voters, Williams did even worse, with nearly three-quarters saying it's time for someone new.

Pollster Ron Lester said he recorded similar results in a June survey of 600 likely Democratic voters conducted for Bolden. (Bolden said this week he is almost certain to drop out of the mayor's race and run for D.C. Council.)

"The mayor's support has largely disintegrated among black voters," Lester said. "He's going to have to really go after Fenty."

Poll? What Poll?

In addition to Hart and Lester, pollster Diane Feldman conducted a May survey of 1,000 Democratic voters. At the time, Evans adviser Chuck Thies said Evans had commissioned the poll and would most likely pay for it by forming an exploratory committee.

But in an interview Friday, Evans denied having a poll, an exploratory committee or any other trappings of a mayoral campaign (despite his previous insistence that he is already a candidate).

"It's not my poll. We're not forming an exploratory committee. It's way too early," Evans said.

Asked for clarification, Thies said he assumed Feldman's survey "was to test the viability of Jack running for mayor. I cannot offer any further clarity."

A Western Strategy

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he hopes Jim Matheson, Utah's sole Democratic congressman, can be persuaded to sign on to Davis's effort to give the District a vote in Congress.

"Jim Matheson could very obviously be helpful to us to get a significant number of other Democrats. That would open the floodgates to this" and more Republican support, Davis told D.C. lawyers at a luncheon on Friday.

Matheson might seem like a longshot to support the Davis bill. Dubbed the D.C. Fairness in Representation Act, it would temporarily expand the House from 435 members to 437, adding seats for D.C. and Utah. The House would revert to 435 seats for the 2012 election after reapportionment following the 2010 Census, with the District keeping its vote. Democrats worry that Utah's Republican-dominated legislature might use the change to gerrymander Matheson out of Congress. Davis concedes that Matheson has reason to be suspicious. "This is probably not the best time. We just spent $4 million in the last two elections to defeat him," said Davis. "Maybe he'll be forgiving."

Davis said he has some ideas about how to address Matheson's concerns. Maybe, he said, Congress could create a statewide, at-large House seat for Utah that would not affect the boundaries of Matheson's district.

Matheson says he supports the idea of four House seats, rather than the current three, for Utah, but he notes that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) opposes the bill. "If the majority leader doesn't want a bill to come up for a vote, that's a big problem," Matheson told KSL radio, according to sister station WTOP. "That's your stumbling block."

Moving and Shaking

* Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi celebrated his fifth anniversary as chief tax collector and fiscal analyst with a party Friday outside his second-floor offices in the John A. Wilson Building. He thanked "the hard-working people of my team" for helping the city climb into the black after the dark days of deficits and the financial control board. "I never thought we would get here," said Gandhi, whose term expires in 2007.

* Some D.C. Board of Education members are going back to school. Carolyn N. Graham, Jeff Smith (District 1), Carrie Thornhill, Robin B. Martin and Victor A. Reinoso (District 2) will travel to Los Angeles on Saturday for seven intensive days of leadership training by the Broad Foundation. The invitation-only session will focus on ideas for boosting student achievement.

* John Wallace, 53, has replaced Anita Bonds as director of the mayor's Office of Community Affairs. The 20-year city employee most recently was director of systems and technology for the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.