Dean Fund-Raiser Abuzz With Word of Gore Nod

A fund-raiser for Howard Dean (searchwas buzzing Monday after word spread that former Vice President Al Gore (searchhad agreed to endorse him for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Dean himself told the crowd of several hundred supporters gathered at Roseland Ballroom that he could "neither confirm nor deny" reports of Gore's endorsement.

Gore, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in the 2000 election, has agreed to appear with Dean in Harlem on Tuesday and then travel with the former Vermont governor to Iowa for a formal endorsement, said several Democratic sources, including one close to Gore.

Dean supporters at the $100-a-head fund-raiser late Monday night reveled in Gore's backing.

"Fifty-five percent of the country voted for him," said Jessica Wells, 26, of Ambler, Pa. "He's a great person to have behind you."

Sandra Bernhard, Andrea Martin, Rob Reiner and John Leguizamo were among the celebrity supporters present.

"I'm sick and tired of being lied to, and that's why I'm here supporting Howard Dean," Reiner told the crowd.

Earlier Monday, 23 City Council members, including Speaker Gifford Miller (search), endorsed Dean for president. There are 47 Democrats on the 51-member council.

In accepting the endorsement, Dean said of President Bush, "I can't imagine this president winning this state or certainly this city after reducing funds for schools, cutting fire and police — the essential services we need — and gutting mass transit funding."

The backing of Gore and the council members mark the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements in New York for Dean, ranging from powerful labor unions to rock icon Joan Jett.

Recent independent polls have shown Dean at or near the top of the field in New York, but with the contest still competitive and a large number of undecided Democrats. The state's presidential primary is March 2.

A poll by Franklin Pierce College found Dean with a 25-point lead over Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in New Hampshire, seven weeks before the state's Democratic presidential primary. Dean was at 39 percent and Kerry at 14 percent in the poll.

In May, Dean and Kerry were tied at 23 percent in the poll.