Former American Stock Exchange Chairman Arthur Levitt Jr. appears to be the Clinton Administration's leading choice for the chairmanship of the Securities & Exchange Commission. But Wall Street potshots could bring his trial balloon down to earth.

The grumbling focuses mainly on Levitt's 1978-89 stewardship of the Amex. Joseph R. Hardiman, president of NASDAQ, wonders whether a chairman with Levitt's exchange background could deal fairly with the over-the-counter market. Taking a different tack, one prominent securities lawyer complains that Levitt's only Wall Street experience was "presiding over the decline of the Amex," which has steadily lost ground to NASDAQ and other markets.

Levitt has a lot going for him. His role as founder of the American Business Conference gives him close ties to a key political constituency--midsize growth companies. But should Levitt's prospects fade, the White House might turn to Consuela Washington, a top aide to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.). The Administration is under growing pressure to pick an SEC chair before the scheduled Apr. 15 departure of holdover commission chief Richard C. Breeden.

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