The run for the White House is capturing most of the press play. But the political pot is also brewing in the District of Columbia. How much? Get a load of this. Which D.C. Council member recently announced to a public gathering: "I want you to know, I support this mayor. I support his program. I want him to succeed"? You'll never guess!

It was Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 council member, and since last September's stinging defeat in the Democratic mayoral primary, an unabashed critic of Mayor Tony Williams.

The occasion was the Hillcrest Community Civic Association's 10th anniversary gala on Sept. 17. Hillcrest, which is east of the Anacostia River, happens to be where Chavous lives. It's also the community where some of Chavous's neighbors launched the successful movement to draft Tony Williams for mayor.

A quick peek at the calendar may help explain Chavous's public embrace of the mayor, who also was seated at his table. The D.C. Democratic primary is next year. Although Chavous won every precinct in Ward 7 in last year's race, he still has some missionary work to do following his bitter primary fight. Convincing the sellout crowd that his wounds have healed, and that now he and Williams are closer than two pages in a book, was a way to start. But as one skeptical guest seated across the table from me muttered under her breath, "Kevin's running."

Chavous wasn't the only one politicking. He had to share the evening with Greg Rhett, an economic development consultant and former Marshall Heights Community Development Organization official. Rhett, an unsuccessful candidate in last year's Democratic At-Large council primary, has been popping up all over Ward 7 in recent months. While he spent the evening shmoozing with the guests, his associates talked up his candidacy, making it sound all but certain that a Rhett-Chavous contest was in the offing next year, provided the field doesn't get crowded, which would then make Chavous hard to beat.

The Hillcrest gala also provided evidence that Chavous isn't the only incumbent who may be hearing footsteps. The event attracted Bill Rice, the former writer for the Northwest Current weekly newspaper and ex-federal employee who ran a close fourth last year in a field of 10 Democratic At-Large council candidates.

Rice is eyeing a run against two other losing candidates in last year's mayor's race -- Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). Both are also up for reelection in 2000.

"I'm certainly considering the possibility of running next year," Rice said in an interview this week. He regards the 11,087 votes he won, along with victories in wards 2 and 6 and a good Ward 1 showing, as major assets. He also said his campaign is debt free. If he runs, Rice must decide whether to challenge Brazil in the Democratic primary or wait for the November general election and take on Republican Carol Schwartz.

Brazil is thought by many to be the most vulnerable because of his poor showing in the mayoral primary. He polled only 4 percent of the vote, while Williams ran away from the field of seven candidates with 50 percent. Schwartz is not home free, either. Even though she is careful to disassociate herself from her party's national excesses and is a proven vote-getter in the District, the GOP's heavy-handed treatment of the city on Capitol Hill won't make Schwartz's Republican label very attractive in many city precincts.

On the other hand, Chavous, Brazil and Schwartz should trade places with their mayoral opponent and council colleague, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

While it's not hard to find Ward 2 residents from Foggy Bottom to Shaw willing to explain why Evans deserves a one-way ticket to political oblivion, no one has stepped forward to take him on. Maybe it's because Evans is no slouch when it comes to ward politics, has a good legislative record on which to run and has an enthusiastic campaign organization to back him up. This week Ward 2 Democratic Party Chairman B. Warren "Bud" Lane said that while he thinks the lack of competition isn't good for the ward, "Jack appears to have a free ride." Evans said yesterday that he's taking nothing for granted and is gearing up to go all out this fall.

Democrats Charlene Drew Jarvis (Ward 4) and Sandy Allen (Ward 8) also must face the voters next year. At this stage, neither has a major opponent on the horizon.

Ward 4 school board member Dwight Singleton seemed a likely Jarvis challenger in the Democratic primary. But then he emerged as a major actor in the coup d'etat against the school board president and came across as, well, sort of scary. Ward 4 voters now aren't sure what they have on their hands.

And speaking of fear, Sandy Allen seems frightened to death of a Cora Masters Barry primary challenge -- which is about as likely to happen as a mule breaking out in song.

So as you can see, there's some stirring out there on the local hustings. And Chavous? During a break in the education committee public hearing that he was chairing yesterday, he said -- of no one in particular -- "I welcome every challenge, but I don't fear any challenger." Got that, Rhett?

Keep Iowa and New Hampshire. The action's gonna be here.