John McCaslin

A "political power grab" is said to be under way at historic Ford's Theatre, orchestrated by theater board member Linda Daschle, lobbyist-wife of former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and involving one of Washington's more mysterious, if not generous couples.

"For years, the board (leadership) has been carefully kept bipartisan," an outgoing trustee tells The Beltway Beat. "This is partisan politics, pure and simple."

Partly for political exposure, the board member insists that Linda Daschle has "orchestrated a behind-the-scenes secret slate" of friends, including congressional spouses, to replace the 42-member board's outgoing chairman, pair of vice chairmen, secretary and treasurer.

Figuring into the controversy are Washington power couple Wayne and Catherine Reynolds, who already have envious tongues wagging in Washington's social circles with their $100 million-plus in donations to the National Gallery of Art and Kennedy Center, among other recipients.

But not everybody wants the dough. Catherine Reynolds took back one $38 million contribution to the Smithsonian Institution after the couple was accused in gossip sheets of trying to buy their way to the top of Washington's A List, if not into personal control of the museums' exhibits.

Linda Daschle is proposing that Wayne Reynolds become the board's next chairman, the trustee reveals, adding that the Daschles in recent weeks flew aboard the Reynolds' private jet, which we could not confirm Monday. Also, says the trustee, the Reynolds' have already made a $1 million donation to Ford's Theatre - site of President Lincoln's assassination in 1865 - "with promises of more to come."

Board member Debbie Dingell, wife of Michigan Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell, was pushed by Linda Daschle to become secretary, the trustee continues, but for personal reasons withdrew her nomination.

Linda Daschle did not return a telephone call to her office early Monday seeking comment.

Among current board members are Karyn Frist, wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Kathleen Gregg, wife of Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican; Patricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Landra Reid, wife of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; and Kimberly Dorgan, wife of Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

Meanwhile, talk about timing, tickets go on sale Aug. 14 for the Ford's Theatre production of "State of the Union," which is about a charismatic candidate being groomed for the presidency during "a politically cantankerous time, eerily similar to our own."

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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