The race is on to choose a successor to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. supervision director Nicholas J. Ketcha, who retires Dec. 18.

Michael J. Zamorski, deputy director of the 2,700-employee supervision division and Mr. Ketcha's confidant, is considered the front-runner. Since joining the agency in 1977, he has weathered several banking crises and is the agency's point man on the year-2000 problem.

Christie A. Sciacca, an assistant director for policy, joined the FDIC in 1969 and has served as assistant to the chairman. He left in 1986 to help establish Secura Group but was rehired in 1996.

Carmen J. Sullivan, director of the FDIC's compliance and consumer affairs division, did not apply for the job but has strong credentials. She joined the agency in 1970 and has served as ombudsman and director of information resources.

Also rumored to be under consideration are Cottrell L. Webster, supervision director for the Memphis region, and James Sexton, a Bracewell & Patterson consultant who led the FDIC's supervision division in the early 1980s.

Gender and race could be factors in the battle to lead the division, which one wag dubbed "a seething cauldron of testosterone." Chairman Donna A. Tanoue has said she wants to increase diversity in the agency's upper ranks.

Dec. 1 was the deadline for applications. Interviews could begin this week, but a decision is not expected until next year.

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