Why do the current D.C. mayoral contenders insist on turning routine campaign announcements into the dance of a thousand veils?

First, the city watched council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) shimmy around. The two men:

a) formed exploratory committees;

b) let it be known they were "leaning strongly" toward entering the 2006 mayoral race;

c) set firm dates for revealing their decisions;

d) declared themselves candidates;

e) all of the above.

Now, Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) is performing a similar veil dance, though Cropp ditched the exploratory committee phase and forgot to play coy when setting a date for her announcement.

In a press release e-mailed to reporters over the weekend, Cropp said she would "file as a candidate for Mayor on September 7." She declined, however, to answer any questions about that decision, and her publicist of the moment, Deborah Clark, refused even to reveal where her announcement would be made.

Thank heavens for Jack Evans, who is never shy about declaring himself a candidate for anything. With Cropp in the race for mayor, Evans (D-Ward 2) said this week he is "definitely going to run" to succeed her.

Evans, you may recall, also declared himself a candidate for mayor earlier this year. But this time it's for real, he said. "I've talked to all my colleagues, to the mayor, to my supporters. I'm definitely going to do it," Evans said. "Not tomorrow. But I'll get around to it."

Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) said she, too, plans to campaign for Cropp's post. "I may actually file papers now, though I won't do a formal announcement until it's more sensible timing," Patterson said. "I don't want anybody to think for a moment that I'm having second thoughts."

In the past, Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) also expressed interest in the chairman's race. But Graham was still traveling in South America this week, and aides said he had no comment on Cropp's decision.

Now Appearing in NYC

In other political news, council candidate A. Scott Bolden has appeared in his first campaign commercial. But the television ad is not playing in D.C. And it doesn't even mention Bolden's bid to unseat council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).

The ad is a testimonial Bolden recorded for Leslie Crocker Snyder, the former New York judge and prosecutor who is challenging legendary Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau in next month's Democratic primary.

Bolden worked for Morgenthau from 1987 to 1990 and waged a public campaign to persuade him to hire more minority lawyers. That campaign was largely unsuccessful, Bolden said, adding that Morgenthau refused to meet with a group of black attorneys organized by Bolden, the NAACP and the black bar association.

Today, Bolden said, the Manhattan district attorney's office remains the province of white guys. So Bolden readily agreed when his friend Chuck Thies asked him to film an ad for the Snyder campaign.

"I worked for Robert Morgenthau. He's been in office for over 30 years. But when it comes to hiring people of color for the top jobs, nothing's changed," says the recorded Bolden, who goes on to note that, of 117 senior attorneys hired by Morgenthau, just five are Hispanic and only four are African American. Morgenthau's campaign has disputed those numbers.

Bolden, the son of civil rights activists from Joliet, Ill., said he was happy to do the ad, calling it an extension of his father's work.

As for his own political campaign, it's still a little early to be recording television ads, he said. "We're still more than a year out."

Nader vs. the Tax Man

God help the government bureaucrat who traps Ralph Nader in voice-mail hell.

The consumer activist-cum-presidential candidate was brought to wit's end this week trying to get through to a human being at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.

"I tried every conceivable way. It's spectacular testimony to how modern telecommunications has turned into anti-communications," said Nader, whose efforts were rewarded by an unhelpful recording telling him that "because of an extremely high volume of incoming calls, we are unable to take your call at this time."

Nader was calling the tax man because the office had rejected his tax return for reasons unspecified in the form letter that accompanied the returned, um, return. Given the enormous effort required to figure out what the problem was, Nader figures most people would simply "drop the phone in quiet desperation."

But "I am not one of those people," he said. So he dialed a different number, calling Mayor Anthony A. Williams to remind him of his 1998 campaign pledge to make government more accountable.

A real person actually answered the phone in the mayor's call center. Alas, when Nader asked to speak with the mayor, that person politely told him to contact Williams via e-mail.

Nader said his tax experience is not the first time he has been frustrated by the D.C. bureaucracy. In 1998, he complained about a nasty pothole at 19th and R streets NW. It took the Department of Public Works six months to get back to him.

It's Janey Calling

It's hardly ever good news when the principal calls. So imagine how some 13,000 D.C. public school parents felt last weekend when they picked up the phone and heard the voice of Superintendent Clifford B. Janey.

"Hello, parents and families," Janey said in an unusual recorded message welcoming parents and students back to what he and his team hope will be a new and improved public school system.

"During the course of this school year, I will send you personalized messages and important school-related information," Janey promised. "Thank you for choosing DCPS. It's our goal to regain the respect and admiration we once had as a high-performing school district."

In an interview, Janey said the call was a test run for a new telecommunications system aimed at keeping parents in the loop on snow days and during other emergencies, such as the one that occurred last winter when a mercury spill closed Cardozo Senior High School.

Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.