Is Mayor Anthony A. Williams irrelevant?

You might draw that conclusion after listening to the quartet of Democrats who hope to replace him in 2006. Over the past two weeks, as two new candidates entered the race for his job and a third held a citywide campaign kickoff, nary a one mentioned the mayor, who has yet to say whether he will seek a third term.

Truth is, none of them expects to have to run against Williams (D), who has said both publicly and privately that he is leaning against another run for office.

For further evidence of the mayor's indifference, check out his recent travel schedule.

On Sept. 8, just as the campaign was getting a post-Labor Day burst of energy and attention, Williams and his wife jetted off on a 12-day jaunt through Europe.

First stop: the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, billed by the U.S. Commercial Service as the "premier annual business gathering in Greece, and increasingly in the Balkans." There, Williams hobnobbed with the Greek prime minister and the mayor of Thessaloniki, who gave him a City Medal for his contributions to American cities. The Greek Chamber of Commerce footed the bill.

Three days later, Williams flew to Germany for the Frankfurt International Auto Show, courtesy of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association. He met up briefly with William A. Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., and mayoral candidate Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D), the council member from Ward 5. Then it was on to Berlin for a meeting about Germany's Maglev trains and a little sightseeing. According to the mayor's office, Williams paid for the Berlin side trip.

The mayor wrapped up his travels last weekend in Vienna, where he mentioned "the District's struggle for liberty and self-determination" during a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the departure of Allied troops from occupied Austria. Washington First Corp. paid for the mayor's plane ticket, while the city of Vienna put him up in one of its fine hotels.

The mayor finally came home Monday (though he was scheduled to leave again yesterday, for Michigan).

Spokeswoman Sharon Gang said the extended journey focused attention "on two major issues: economic development for the District and the lack of voting rights for the people of the nation's capital."

Gray for Chairman?

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) isn't running for D.C. Council chairman, according to his spokeswoman. But Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) says he is seriously considering a bid for the at-large seat.

Gray said he's been inundated by callers urging him to think about the race ever since Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) signaled her intention to run for mayor this summer.

"The first thought I had is, What kind of a joke is this? Is somebody trying to curry favor with me?" said Gray, a freshman council member who won election barely a year ago. "But these folks are serious. So there came a point when I decided maybe I ought to take this thing seriously as well."

For now, Gray said, he's doing little more than meeting with his constituents. "If the people of Ward 7 think I'm going to abandon them, then I'm not going to do it," he said.

If, on the other hand, "people feel this would give another [council] seat to people east of the [Anacostia] river," Gray said, then he might be inclined to run.

Gray is the first African American to express an interest in the chairman's office, which is also coveted by council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who has officially filed papers to run in that contest, Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). But Gray said he has no plans "to run as a quote, unquote, black candidate."

"What I hope doesn't happen is that this becomes one of these race-based races," Gray said. "We have enough racial polarization in the city already."

Here's Barry, Belatedly

Speaking of Barry, the freshman council member and former mayor chaired his first committee meeting since his inauguration in January. At 10 a.m. Saturday, the council's fifth-floor chamber was packed with more than 100 people eager to share their thoughts with Barry about the pitiful state of vocational education in the public schools.

Just one problem: There was no sign of Barry.

Dozens of union leaders, community activists and job training providers waited patiently for about 30 minutes, then trooped dutifully to the council's fourth-floor hearing room when they were told that the chamber's cable television camera was broken.

By 10:45 a.m., however, people were starting to get restless.

Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, ran up to Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large).

"Do you know where the chair is?" Williams said, looking at his watch. "Half the people here got soccer games and things to go to."

Brown threw up his hands, then glanced around impatiently. "Let me go get Marion," he said. "I know he's out here."

Five minutes later, Barry sauntered into the hearing room, tieless, wearing a cool blue shirt and a tweed sports jacket. He limped slightly but otherwise looked fresh and alert, displaying few signs of the ill health that has dogged him since he took office, ruined his council attendance record and sent him to the hospital three times.

"Good morning!" Barry declared, settling into the chairman's seat. He read an opening statement, turned to his colleagues for opening remarks, then finally summoned the first witness from a list of 127 at 11:15 a.m., one hour and 15 minutes late.

Barry cautioned speakers to keep their testimony brief or the hearing could go on all night. In the end, Barry presided until well past 6 p.m.

"It's all right with me, though," he said. "I got the energy."