Levin: FCC front-runner

Andrew Levin, aide to the House Commerce Committee's top Democrat John Dingell, is the front-runner to replace Gloria Tristani as FCC commissioner. His stiffest competition appears to be from someone whose name hasn't yet reached the Washington rumor mill.

Dingell, along with House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), is pushing Bush and the Senate to put Levin in Tristani's seat, which goes to a Democrat. They argue it's the House's turn to pick a commissioner. Industry sources predict, however, that Bush may try taking advantage of political leverage to dole out a little patronage by nominating a minority or female Texan who also happens to be a conservative Democrat.

After three years of fielding an FCC lineup of two women and an African-American chairman—Tristani, Susan Ness and William Kennard, respectively—Democrats' only serious prospects have been white guys like Levin, new Commissioner Michael Copps, former cable executive David Krone, and Montana Public Service Commissioner Bob Rowe. Sure, former Gore aide Kathy Wallman is said to be on the list, but few industry observers are betting anybody closely identified with the Clinton administration will get the nod.

So far, either Bush hasn't found the right candidate or hasn't vetted the name on the Hill, according to congressional sources.

Meanwhile, Levin's supporters in the House, said to include Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Minority Whip David Bonior, are trying to gin up support in the Senate, which is solely responsible for confirming presidential nominations.

Tristani, who last week announced she will step down Friday, has not revealed her plans but is expected to return home to New Mexico and seek nomination to run against Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.

Tristani, one of the FCC's most liberal members during her nearly four years, was a vociferous critic of media consolidation and fierce advocate for children's television. Former FCC Chairman Kennard assigned her to oversee rollout of the V-Chip channel-blocking technology. Of late her key issue has been pushing for tougher FCC investigation of complaints about broadcast indecency.