It can't be easy being in Congress without a vote, but the District's delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has stuck it out for 16 long years, never truly a part of the club but always relentlessly knocking on the door seeking admittance.

Now, Norton is sure, success is in her sights. With Democratic leaders pledging to get it done and ample Republican support, the bill giving both the District of Columbia and Utah an additional voting seat is cruising along.

"Won't we be surprised if it doesn't happen -- but I tell you, it's in the stars," Norton said yesterday.

Not a moment too soon for Norton, a third-generation D.C. native, who had a long career in civil rights and as a tenured professor before serving in Congress. "This is really personal for me," she said. "My grandfather was a firefighter here."

The District's quest for voting rights and statehood has taken many roads for decades. Twenty years ago, legal experts believed only a constitutional amendment could give the city voting rights. But ultimately, only 16 of the 38 states needed voted to ratify the amendment. Most contemporary legal thinking, including an endorsement by the American Bar Association last year, declares the bill constitutionally sound.

Norton's bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), must clear two committees before it is brought for a floor vote. Norton is hoping that will happen in March. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Pelosi is committed to finalizing the bill's language, moving it through committees and having a floor vote as soon as possible.

The way the legislation is written, Norton could not automatically vote if it became law -- she would have to run for Congress in a special election. But Hill sources say that could change as the bill makes it way through the system.

What is likely to secure the measure's future is that it include a provision to add a congressional seat for Utah, which would probably be Republican, thereby balancing out the Democratic gain from the District.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because it's seldom that you have a pairing of two jurisdictions," Norton said. "Either it happens now or it won't happen for a long time."

Juanita and the BeeRep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, the new chairman of the House Administration Committee, likes chronicling her accomplishments, and she didn't miss an opportunity to breathlessly make note of her first hearing and how "a woman sounded the gavel" for the first time. (She likes using the word "first," too.) The release did graciously mention other members of the committee, but not all were lucky enough to have their name spelled correctly. "She appointed Rep. Bob Grady as Chair of the Capitol Security Committee and Rep. Zoe Lofton as Chair of the Elections Subcommittee," the release stated. That would be Bob Bradyof Pennsylvania and Zoe Lofgrenof California. The misspellings were particularly gratifying to former staff members (of which there are many), who were often pointedly reminded by the congresswoman that she doesn't tolerate mediocrity. Pity the staffer who wrote it.

Fortunately, Millender-McDonald was spelled correctly.

Dear Senator: Please Oppose Your Bill The nation's largest teachers union last week sent a letter urging senators to oppose an amendment sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander(R-Tenn.), which would have rewarded teachers who perform well -- but the union neglected to remove Alexander from the list.

"I am astonished," Alexander said on the Senate floor about the letter he received from the National Education Association. "So the NEA, in its brilliance, has written me a letter to ask me to vote against my own amendment."

Alexander did cut the organization some slack about the mix-up, noting that "any of our offices can make a mistake." But he said he was genuinely surprised by the fervor of the NEA opposition to the appropriations amendment, which would have provided $99 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund. Senate Democrats never brought up the measure for consideration.

The NEA believes the funds could be better used for other programs.

StaffingHigh-profile GOP Hill staff members who lost jobs when Democrats took power seem to be slowly but surely landing. . . . The latest is former House clerk Karen L. Haas, who was recently named executive director for the House Republican Conference by Chairman Adam Putnam(R-Fla.). Those who were curious about the whereabouts of Eric Ueland, chief of staff to former Senate majority leader Bill Frist --we caught up with him yesterday. "I'm footloose and fancy free," he said, adding that after nearly two decades on the Hill, he is looking to work in the world of lobbying. "I'm talking to people and doing my homework."