The surprise winner of the first D.C. mayoral debate appears to have been political newcomer Marie C. Johns.

After last week's forum at the University of the District of Columbia, the crowd of government employees, community activists and curious voters snacked on brownies and ripe strawberries and buzzed about an unexpectedly forceful performance by the former telecommunications executive.

"I think Marie Johns will get a bounce from this," said Greg Rhett, an undecided voter who lives in Ward 7. Johns demonstrated "presence, conviction, strength and clarity" in her responses during the 90-minute forum, Rhett said.

"Marie sounded like an outsider," added Ron Friday, Ward 7 coordinator for the mayor's Office of Community Affairs, who said he, too, is undecided. "She might do like Sharon Pratt and come up through the middle."

Audience members said Johns won respect for her tart reply to WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, who asserted that "nobody knows" Johns and asked where she gets "the chutzpah" to run for mayor.

"I find that question pretty amazing," Johns shot back. She rattled off her work in D.C. civic circles and her role as president of Verizon's local office. "I am not an elected official, but I have a long record of service, not just passing legislation, but really addressing problems," she said.

Johns, who cast herself as a "working mother" who rose to corporate power through "hard work, determination and perseverance," also appeared to score points for her response to a question about her favorite places in the District. Johns chose the Bloomingdale home of her 6-month-old grandson and the Mall, "where I spent over seven hours to pay respects to Mother Rosa Parks . . . . To have the opportunity to see her lying in state in the Rotunda, that was my favorite space and will remain so for quite some time."

This week, Johns said the debate spawned numerous calls to her campaign, an evolving operation that is still staffed primarily by volunteers.

"I've been very encouraged and excited by the follow-up," she said. "Now it's onwards and upwards. There's still an awful lot of work to do, but we're going to do it."

Support? Yes. A Vote? No Way.

As evidenced by his lavish exploratory breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and his birthday bash at the nightclub formerly known as Dream, council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) knows how to throw a party. So it was no surprise that Orange chose to herald the opening of his mayoral campaign headquarters in Chinatown on Saturday with a jazz band, free food and a big bowl of orange punch.

The event attracted a steady flow of nearly 600 supporters, including such cartoon celebrities as Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer. While it's unclear whether Dora (or Scooby, for that matter) is a D.C. voter, one guest at the grand opening definitely won't be voting for Orange: his campaign manager, Henry Osborne.

Osborne lives in Silver Spring, which is, of course, in Maryland. But Osborne said his residency in the Free State is irrelevant because he still owns property in the District, where he lived for 14 years and worked as a volunteer for former council member Harold Brazil (D).

Orange called Osborne a "commodity" who is well known in D.C. thanks to his work at NBC News and in public affairs programming.

"He can deliver me to [the mayor's] office with his expertise," Orange said. "Everybody knows him. He's getting me into areas where I didn't have access and I'm not well known. He adds credibility."

Osborne acknowledged that Orange has a hard row to hoe to win the mayor's office. But he said the campaign will be working hard to showcase Orange's accomplishments over the next 10 months.

"I don't think any of the other candidates have a track record in economic development," Osborne said. And while other candidates talk about education in the abstract, he said Orange championed the makeover of McKinley Technical High School. Added businessman Pedro Alfonso: "Citizens, when they look at the record, pound for pound, Vincent Orange has delivered."

Magic Gas Machine

Last week, Ward 8 council member Marion Barry and comedian-activist Dick Gregory came together in a Southeast parking lot to promote a friend's new sewage-to-energy machine, the "gasifier."

The event drew the attention of the staff at Saturday Night Live, who included an item about the gasifier on "Weekend Update."

Anchor Tina Fey: "D.C. Councilman Marion Barry displayed a gasification machine this week, which can supposedly convert garbage or sewage to pollution-free electricity and drinking water. However, he did not turn it on to prove that it works. And why would he? All I need to hear are the words, 'Marion Barry' and 'gasification machine' and I am ready to invest."

A Reelection Win at FOP

More than 700 D.C. police officers re-elected Louis P. Cannon to his seventh straight term as president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge. Cannon won the biennial election last week by a 2-to-1 margin over his first challenger in ages, MPD police Sgt. Gregory I. Greene.

"I'm very pleased to have won," Cannon said. "This clearly demonstrates the fact that the membership is satisfied with what my administration is doing."

The lodge is not a bargaining organization, but functions mainly as a social club. It has more than 10,000 members in 34 different law enforcement agencies. Greene campaigned on a platform to place more emphasis on training.

Staff writers Eric M. Weiss and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

Dora the Explorer attended the opening of D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr.'s mayoral campaign headquarters held Saturday in Chinatown.