Worth Noting

Posted March 19, 2003 at 6:20pm

Tim Russert is no longer satisfied with just beating ABC News like a drum in the Sunday-morning ratings race.

Now the NBC News star has stolen away the highly regarded Elizabeth Wilner from the ABC News political unit in Washington.

Wilner is well-known within the Beltway for being one of the authors of “The Note,” ABC’s must-read, daily summary of the morning’s political stories.

She has written the Web-based publication with

Mark Halperin, ABC’s top-flight political director, and Marc Ambinder of the political unit.

But in what one NBC official billed as a “major coup” for the Peacock folks, the rival network has snatched Wilner away from ABC and installed her in the newly created position of political director to go head-to-head with Halperin in breaking political news.

“We couldn’t be happier to have Elizabeth joining our team,” said one official at NBC. The network has not yet officially announced the move, which takes effect March 31.

Wilner will be working closely with Russert, who serves as NBC’s Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” which has been far ahead of ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation” for quite some time in the ratings game. The post also gives her the cable outlets of CNBC and MSNBC for political stories, something ABC can’t compete with.

Despite the potential for acrimony, ABC officials indicate that they’re all smiles about Wilner’s departure. “We wish her the best,” ABC News spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols told HOH.

Political insiders all around town, meanwhile, have been buzzing about the potential for Wilner to start a rival Note-like tip sheet at NBC.

NBC officials say they are “still in discussions” about whether they will start such a publication, though the folks at ABC are said to be nonplussed about that possibility.

Gourmet Gala. Despite jitters about the war, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Commerce Secretary Don Evans were among the many VIPs who served as celebrity chefs at the March of Dimes’ Gourmet Gala on Tuesday night.

Roughly $1 million was raised to fight birth defects at the 21st annual event, which always features lawmakers and Cabinet secretaries dishing out their favorite recipes for the attendees.

Lugar and his wife, Charlene, won the “Best Presentation” award for their roasted mushrooms stuffed with feta, spinach and bacon.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and his wife, Lois, won the “Regional” award for their Crawfish la Louisiane. Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and his wife, Betty Ann, meanwhile, snagged the “Easiest Presentation” award with their Country Ham Dip.

The “Health & Happiness” award for a low-cal dish went to Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and his wife, Sandy, for their “Michigan Healthy Cherry Salsa.”

That made up a bit for the fact that one of the emcees, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), had earlier introduced the Congressman as the “Honorable Joe Kollenberg.” By the way, Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) was referred to as the “Honorable George Radovich.”

But the missteps merely showed Burns’ downhome side. Jim Whittinghill of the American Trucking Association jokingly compared Burns to “Tractor Man,” who caused a couple of days of traffic nightmares by driving his tractor into a pool in Constitution Gardens on The Mall to protest government farm policies.

Looking out at a man-made pond that sits in the middle of the National Building Museum, Whittinghill joked, “It will be a success if we can keep Conrad from driving his tractor into that pond.”

Vote Early and Often. Lugar snagged another big honor last week when he became just the 22nd Senator in history to cast 10,000 floor votes.

“I would be willing to bet that for every vote he has cast, he has made at least one friend over all of these years,” said Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.).

“He may be a Republican and I may be a Democrat, but I have never been so appreciative of a relationship as a Senator than I have with Senator Lugar,” he added. “He has made many more than 10,000 friends since he came to the Senate in 1977.”

Lugar told HOH that the occasion was especially “sentimental” because it came while outgoing Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie was on the floor for his last day on the job.

The Senator also revealed a little secret about how he has been able to make many of those 10,000 votes on time. Noting that he likes to jog on the Mall during the day, he thanked the young pages who work in the chamber.

“On several occasions I have been caught as far away as 14th Street or the Washington Monument when the beeper went off,” he said. “I had to run swiftly. Fortunately, my pace is sufficient to get the mile and a half back to the Capitol during the time of the vote to scramble up the back stairs.”

“But,” he added, “in a disheveled condition I have prevailed upon the pages to crack open the door, and the reading clerk has been kind enough to read my name so that I can peak through and keep this voting record alive” without having to go change into a suit and tie.

No Ordinary Joe. Even though he snagged the presidential endorsement of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on Monday, the morning started out pretty badly for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Lieberman’s car got a flat tire as he headed from his home in Georgetown to Capitol Hill for an interview with Paula Zahn for CNN’s morning show.

Rather than snag a tire iron from the trunk, however, Lieberman was lucky to have his Capitol Police security detail on hand. The police swapped the car with the bad tire for another vehicle at Lieberman’s home and got him to his interview at a reasonable time.

“It would take more than [a busted tire] to stop me from being with you this morning,” Lieberman joked to Zahn. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”