AT least one region of the United States figures that President-elect Clinton will surely pull it out of the economic doldrums. Ironically, that area is downtown Washington.
Sure, during the campaign the candidates talked about D.C. as if it were Sodom and Gomorrah. To hear them tell it, you're practically laughed off the sidewalk in the K Street lobbyists' corridor if you're not wearing alligator shoes.
But let bygones be bygones. A new president - and especially a new Democratic president - means a burst of legislative and regulatory activity. Naturally, that means a burst of work for the economic apparatus that surrounds official Washington: lobbyists, lawyers, trade associations, public relations firms. Not to mention Washington press bureaus.
Whether Mr. Clinton's initiatives become law or not, the process of interagency debate and congressional hearings is sure to be intensive. "You end up with more business inside the Beltway," says Lou Cordia, a vice president at the public relations company Burson-Marsteller.
So forget those stories about D.C. real estate agents storming Clinton transition headquarters. The real jockeying for influence and access with the incoming administration is going on in glass-front buildings that line K Street.
After 12 years of GOP rule, many of Washington's associations and lobby firms are heavy on Republican contacts. That doesn't mean they haven't kept high-level Democrats on the payroll - there was always Congress to lobby. But it hasn't escaped many executives' notice that Democrats are suddenly popping up in top jobs.
Just before the election, for instance, the Securities Industry Association (SIA) tapped as its new president Marc Lackritz, a top SIA lobbyist who just happened to be a Clinton friend from Rhodes scholar days.
Arkansas banker William Brandon, once appointed to a state commission by Clinton, rose to the rotating presidency of the American Bankers Association shortly before the election.
Top Democrats, many of them congressmen thrown into the job market by redistricting, retirement, or bounced checks, are touting their contacts and circulating resumes throughout the city. "We've had a parade of people through here," says one lobbyist at a mid-sized D.C. firm.
Some have been snapped up. Retiring Rep. Marty Russo (D) of Illinois, late of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been hired by Cassidy & Associates, a government relations company. Cassidy also recently acquired the services of Democratic political consultant Bob Beckel.
Many D.C. government service firms have long been bipartisan - Carter press secretary Jody Powell, for instance, is partners in a PR firm with Nancy Reagan's White House spokeswoman Shiela Tate. The conventional wisdom, however, is that nowadays Republicans out on the street after years in power will have a hard time finding K Street employment.
Mr. Cordia - who's also executive director of the Reagan Alumni Association and a former GOP appointee - doesn't think that will necessarily be the case. Republicans coming out of government, he says, have a knowledge of the inner workings of the executive branch that just isn't matched on the Democratic side. Their technical knowledge would be useful in lobbying states, GOP legislative staffs, even the media, Cordia says. "It's advisable to have Democrats lobby a Democratic administration at the politic al level, no question about that," he says. "Is that the only business in town for direct lobbying? No."
The big K Street winners, of course, may be those firms that have principals who were early backers of Clinton and worked hard on the campaign. This has already caused the president-elect some problems: It's widely thought that one reason Clinton campaign chairman Mickey Kantor wasn't named transition chief was that his law firm, Manatt, Phelps, Phillips & Kantor, was flaunting his access to clients.
Vernon Jordan, the man who was tapped as chairman of the transition team, has taken a leave of absence from his own law firm and corporate board positions. Still, Mr. Jordan's firm - Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld - was high on a list of election "winners" compiled by the D.C. law and lobbying trade journal Legal Times. Others so named included law firm Arnold & Porter, where partner John Quinn was once Vice President-elect Al Gore, Jr.'s legal counsel, and Hogan & Hartson, where partner Samuel Berger has been
touted as a possible secretary of state.