Linda W. Cropp says she's going to wait until September to declare her intentions for 2006. But the two-term council chairman who not so long ago was daydreaming about retirement is sounding more and more like a candidate for mayor.

Cropp (D) denied rumors that she's planning a formal announcement for Labor Day. But in an interview in her office in the John A. Wilson Building this week, Cropp said she is leaning toward a run for the city's top job.

"I really have been talking to people all over the city, letting them know I'm thinking about running for mayor, and asking them, if I did, would they support me. And I have been very encouraged," she said. "Just today I went to an event in Ward 8, and they were saying, 'You gotta get out there. You know the city. You've paid your dues. You've done an excellent job as chairman. And you could continue to move this city forward.' "

To a trained ear, that might sound like a nicely worded slap at Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who announced his candidacy for mayor just eight months after winning his first re-election campaign. Detractors say Fenty has compiled a slender record of accomplishment during his brief time in office. Still, three citywide polls conducted for Fenty and other potential mayoral candidates earlier this summer indicated that he has more support among likely voters than any other potential challenger to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). So far, only Fenty, Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) and former Verizon executive Marie C. Johns (D) have formally entered the race.

But Cropp denied taking a swing at her young colleague and said she has no intention of running an "anti-Fenty" campaign if she gets into the mix.

"My run would not be anti-Fenty. My run would be pro-D.C.," Cropp said. "I have done a good job as chairman. I've been a part of bringing this city back to be a wonderful place where people want to live. As I'm calling around, people seem to recognize that and want the city to continue along those positive lines."

Cropp said she plans to spend much of August in Ocean City, pursuing her political explorations from the beach. Whatever she decides, September is shaping up to be a busy month on the D.C. political calendar. Fenty has scheduled a formal kickoff for his mayoral campaign on Sept. 10. Lobbyist Michael A. Brown (D) is expected to shift his effort from exploratory to campaign mode sometime in September. And Williams supporters say the mayor may announce his intentions before he departs on a trip to Europe mid-month.

Williams has yet to say whether he will seek a third term, but many supporters and opponents alike say they are coming to the conclusion that he will not run.

Waiting in the Wings

If Cropp runs for mayor, Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said this week, he is thinking seriously about running for council chairman, a proposition he said supporters raised quite suddenly when he got back from the beach earlier this month.

"As best I can tell, it appears that people are convinced that Linda is running for mayor," Evans said in an interview. "Since last Wednesday, I've been getting a lot of inquiries about running for chair. And I have to say, I'm intrigued by the idea."

Evans -- who previously announced in this space that he was, without question, a candidate for mayor -- said he's not dropping that option, despite early polls suggesting that Cropp would be a stronger candidate. But Evans said he definitely "would not run against Linda" for any office. So if Cropp announces for mayor, look for Evans to announce for chairman soon after.

In addition to Evans, a four-term council veteran who chairs the Finance and Revenue Committee, Council members Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) have said they are inclined to run for chairman if Cropp gives up the seat.

Newcomer on the Run

Then there's Johns.

Political observers are toying with the notion that Johns could drop out of the mayor's race and instead seek the chairman's office if Cropp declares for mayor. The theory is that Johns and Cropp are both poised, professional African American women likely to appeal to the same voters and business leaders. But Cropp is much better known. So why would Johns want to run against her?

Johns seemed to waver when asked that question. "I've signed my papers. I'm ready to go," she told reporters during a campaign announcement last week in the Frank Reeves Municipal Center. "I heard that Mrs. Cropp is also considering the race, and we'll see."

So far, it's not completely clear why Johns is running for any office. A newcomer to politics, she didn't deliver a speech to explain her desire for the city's top job. And she said she was unprepared to take positions on issues likely to shape the campaign, such as public funding for a new baseball stadium.

Even odder, Johns made her announcement at an 11 a.m. news conference that actually started at 10:45 a.m. She was peppered with unfriendly questions about her voting record (Johns has lived in the District only since 1999) and her knowledge of local politics ("Actually, I don't know my ANC representative," she conceded). Then, just as reporters began asking about her broader campaign goals, she swept out of the Reeves Center, claiming she had to get to her next appointment.

It was 10:55 a.m. If anyone had actually shown up on time for the 11 a.m. news conference, they would have missed it.

Annoyed reporters hectored Johns adviser Marshall Brown, arguing that a political unknown should really set aside more than 10 minutes to answer questions. Johns did so at her next event, a door-knocking session in Ward 5, and later apologized to at least two reporters.

"This is Day One," but just wait, she said. "This is going to be such a crack operation."