The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence -- formerly Handgun Control -- has tapped a Republican to lead its organization.

The Republican in question -- okay, so he's a moderate Republican -- is Paul Helmke, the former three-term mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind.

He'll take over as president on July 1, succeeding former Maryland Democratic congressman Michael D. Barnes, who announced in October his plans to step down.

"We wanted a leader who can help broaden the coalition of Americans leading the fight to reduce gun violence and take action to get illegal guns out of our communities," Phyllis Segal, chair of the Brady Campaign Board of Trustees, said in a statement.

Helmke said: "I always felt it was not a Democratic-Republican issue or a conservative-liberal issue. It's a safety issue."

One of the campaign's big efforts currently is fighting illegal gun trafficking. Helmke said he wants to strengthen the group's relations with the nation's mayors.

Currently in private law practice in Fort Wayne, Helmke has served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He ran for Senate in 1998 but lost to Democrat Evan Bayh.

Mercury RisingTerry Nelson, national political director for the '04 Bush-Cheney campaign and most recently a senior adviser to Sen. John McCain's Straight Talk America political action committee, has joined the Mercury Public Affairscommunications shop, a Fleishman-Hillardcompany. It's a coup for New York-based Mercury. Fleishman announced yesterday that Mercury is merging its D.C. government relations operations with Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations. The two shops will maintain their brand names, but Mercury will be responsible for day-to-day management.

FHGR has been experiencing a talent drain in recent years. Fleishman folks are sure to hope that bringing Nelson on board and increasing Mercury's role will help stem the tide.

Mercury has a total of 36 professionals in several offices, including eight in Washington. FHGR has five here. Combined, they'll offer clients lobbying, polling, grass-roots organizing, advertising and more.

Mercury's Kirill Goncharenko, who served as an aide to then-Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who will oversee the combined operation, acknowledged that FHGR had issues. "We're addressing those issues." "We feel we're creating a platform for a premier, bipartisan government relations firm," Goncharenko said.

Leaving the Potomac Behind Potomac fever, we know, is pandemic, a very difficult condition to cure. But every once in a while someone's fever breaks and the former patient leaves for new climes. Such a case is Dan Brouillette --vice president of federal government affairs at Ford Motor Co. and a longtime aide to then-House member W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) -- who's making a break for it.

Brouillette is decamping to San Antonio in June to join USAA, the financial services company as senior vice president in charge of industry affairs, including Washington and international government relations.

"It's been 18, 19 years. I'm finally going to do what I said I would," Brouillette said yesterday.

Brouillette, a former Army drill sergeant, said he likes the fact that USAA's primary market is military service members and families.

He joined Ford in 2004 to help rev up its Washington government affairs operation.

NASA Official Joins Lobby ShopThe revolving door continues to spin. Joe Davis, chief of strategic communications at NASA, is leaving to join Artemis Strategieson May 15 as senior vice president. A statement from the lobby shop said that Davis "is the first member of the agency's new executive management team to head to the private sector." Davis earlier served as principal deputy director of public affairs at the Energy Department under then-Secretary Spencer Abraham and worked on Abraham's staff in the Senate as well as for then-Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.). Davis also worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Here and There John Freshmanhas joined Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Groupas senior vice president. He brought along clients such as Anheuser-Busch and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He was a founder of Freshman, Kast Inc., a lobbying and regulatory boutique.

E. Neil Trautweinhas joined the National Retail Federation as vice president and employee benefits policy counsel. He previously served as assistant vice president for human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers and as manager of health-care policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Stephanie Cutterhas left the Hill, where she split her time between advising Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), to start her own shop, the Cutter Media Group. She'll do strategic political and communications counsel for candidates, companies and issue campaigns.