The Inter-American Development Bank is negotiating the possible leasing of one of Washington's biggest and most troubled office buildings, at 1300 New York Ave. NW, a bank official said yesterday.

The IADB is one of a "handful" of possible buyers or tenants with whom the building's owner, ASC Inc., is negotiating, according to a spokesman, who would not name others that have indicated interest. One of the nation's biggest real estate syndicates also said yesterday it would like to buy the building.

Reports that a sale is imminent have been circulating for several days. Most work on the 750,000-square-foot building was completed last year but it is still empty, a victim of high construction and land costs, an office space glut in the District and a crushing load of debt carried by the builder, Daon Development Corp. of Vancouver.

ASC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bank of Nova Scotia, expects to make a decision "in the near future," said Sanford Ain, a Washington attorney and spokesman for the company. The Bank of Nova Scotia, which provided the $132 million construction loan for the project, took over the building last spring after Daon announced a debt restructuring plan as part of its nearly two-year effort to escape collapse. ASC has been trying to sell the building since then.

Leasing the building is one of a series of options the IADB is considering in its efforts to locate more office space for its staff, said Joel Epstein, manager of the bank's administrative department. The bank, with headquarters at 808 17th St. NW, now occupies space in three buildings. He said the IADB would make a decision before year's end.

VMS Realty Inc., a Chicago-based syndicate, has made an offer for the building, which "will be withdrawn early next week if they the owners of the building don't act on it," said David A. Hayes, senior vice president of the company. "If I had to guess, at this point, I'd say they're not going to" accept the VMS offer, he added.

Estimates of possible purchase prices have ranged from $150 million to $200 million, and sources said the building is costing ASC $1.5 million a month in interest. Ain would not comment on the purchase and interest costs.

Daon bought the land at the southeast corner of 13th Street and New York Avenue, in 1981, paying $615 per square foot, a local record at the time. The company bought one parcel for $40 million and three others for a total of $9.7 million. Because of the high costs, Daon needed tenants who would pay about $35 a square foot for the space at a time when owners of other buildings in the area were offering rents in the teens and other price breaks.

A "still-interested" prospective purchaser is the federal government, which would like to buy the building for use by the Justice Department, the General Services Administration said recently. 4209

In other areas of America, people are celebrating success. They are, in that cliche of our times, "upwardly mobile."

Here, in the flat stretch of fertile land dotted with palms and mesquite that marks the lower Rio Grande Valley extending north from the Mexican border, they are downwardly mobile. They are dropping farther back into the ranks of the poor and the hopeless.

By any measurable standard, their lot has grown worse during Ronald Reagan's presidency.

The valley has borne one harsh blow after another. As one citizen said bitterly: "We've had everything but the locusts."

A devaluation of the Mexican peso sent economic tremors through businesses along the border. A crippling freeze last December threw 18,000 persons out of work and left the citrus trees withered and dead in the fields. A flood left houses that are still mired in mud and drainage ditches clogged.

Budget cuts most severely hurt those who could least afford them. Rates of poverty and disease are rising, and, for Hispanic children, the increase in poverty over the last three years has been greater than among any other racial, ethnic or age group in the country.

Yet even among this large and electorally crucial bloc of traditionally solid Democratic voters -- the very group that Democrats counted on to carry Texas this November -- a significant political shift is occurring.

Republicans appear to be cutting into the Hispanic vote, posing problems for the Democrats now and presenting opportunities for the GOP beyond this election.

The 1984 outcome will not resolve this politically fateful battle among the nation's fastest growing population group. This struggle promises to continue along sharply widening economic class lines between haves and have-nots.

It pits old concepts of social justice versus new notions of self-interest (if not selfishness), old political ties versus a new sense of a changing American political order.

Even here in the economically devastated Rio Grande Valley, where the Democrats ought to do best, you can find disaffection from them:

At the rental car counter, in the airport alongside the Border Patrol station, the clerk wore a Reagan-Bush button. He was 19, a student at Pan American University in Edinburg nine miles north of here, and Hispanic.

"All they want is a welfare check," he said scornfully of other Mexican-American voters who planned to vote for the Democratic presidential ticket next month. In town, a Roman Catholic nun working with desperately poor Mexican Americans, described "a strange phenomenon."

A sociologist took a poll of seniors at a high school in the valley. Eighty percent said they would vote for Reagan.

"Then he proceeded to talk over their concerns in terms of issues, what they thought the valley needed most," said Sister Ann Kilkilly, "and they weren't there with Reagan at all. It was a totally different story."

Saturday morning, going door to door in a Hispanic section of McAllen, the first young voter encountered drew a political line between himself and his parents.

"Personally, I'm for Mr. Reagan," he said, explaining why he had just registered as a Republican. "I think very highly of him, as any citizen of the United States should think of him. He's a good president. He's very strong. He stands up to the Russians and he does what's right."

He was 19, also a student at Pan American, and said of his parents who remain Democrats: "Maybe I understand the political system better than they do."

These examples suggest that the political battle for the Hispanic vote has entered a new stage.

For five consecutive presidential elections, beginning with the Lyndon B. Johnson-Barry Goldwater contest in 1964, Republicans made steady gains among Hispanic voters in Texas and across the nation.

In 1980, the GOP captured 25 percent of that electorate. It appeared that Reagan's aggressive courting of Hispanics was paying off. Republican strategists saw a chance for major, and perhaps permanent, defections from this Democratic bloc of voters.

All that changed dramatically two years ago. Hispanic voters overwhelmingly turned against the president and the Republican Party.

Across Texas, and especially here in the valley where in two counties alone 85 percent of the 600,000 population is Hispanic, a rising tide of Mexican-American voters sounded a bell in the night for the GOP. It also set off alarms in the Reagan White House.

The combination of the recession and a dramatic increase in the number of Mexican-American voters swept out of office the first Republican governor of Texas in a century, Bill Clements. Democrat Mark White won by 231,175 votes. Mexican Americans gave him 232,379 more votes than they gave Clements.

They represented the margin of victory and set the stage for the 1984 presidential contest.

Earlier this year Democrats were talking about energizing Hispanic voters and enlisting tens of thousands of previously unregistered citizens who could decide the outcome of Texas' critical big bloc of electoral votes.

This was no fanciful dream. Voting among Hispanics here has been rising sharply in recent elections.

In 1976, Mexican Americans cast 278,000 votes in Texas. Four years later, the turnout was 415,000. This year, with the greatest voter registration drive in history under way in Mexican-American communities, it was expected that 660,000 would vote on Nov. 6.

That projected turnout could well take place on Election Day, for when the voter registration books closed in Texas Oct. 8, dramatic increases had been recorded.

The problem lies not in raw numbers but in how those voters will divide politically. The same people who confidently told this reporter eight months ago that they expected the Democrats to get 85 percent -- and some said 90 -- of the Mexican-American vote in Texas now consistently tell a different story.

Without exception, they say they believe that the Republicans will get 30 percent and perhaps as much as 35 percent of the total Hispanic vote.

Some say the Democrats realistically can expect no more than 60 percent. With the overall increase in new voters, that's still a formidable Democratic bloc. But the rise in Republican fortunes represents a dramatic turn from two years -- or eight months -- ago.

"I see Hispanics leaving the Democrats in droves," said Judge Roy Berrera Jr., who was appointed to the San Antonio District Court six years ago by Republican Gov. Clements and then switched his party affiliation to the GOP to run for and win a second judicial term.

"I see a growing Hispanic professional middle class -- bankers, insurance agents, real estate people, students -- moving away from the Democrats. I see others -- plumbers, electricians, small businessmen -- moving away. The time is coming when my generation, born in the Democratic Party and reared in families where the strongest allegiances were to the Democratic Party of Roosevelt and Kennedy, can no longer be taken for granted. That doesn't mean they will be Republicans. It means they will be more independents and ticket splitters.

"I hear people telling me they're for Ronald Reagan, and why. One house painter told me: 'I work hard enough to make ends meet. I don't like sharing it with anyone else. I don't like them taking my taxes to give to the guy across the street who's not paying his.' "

Whether that's an illustration of selfishness or self-interest is beside the point; it's not an uncommon reaction among voters this fall. It accounts for part of Reagan's appeal and success among Hispanics.

Two other factors also work for him:

* Mondale's failure for months to stir these voters emotionally.

* A crosscurrent of emotions among Roman Catholics, in which the views of the bishops have played a role, about abortion and tuition-tax credits for parochial schools. This year, these work strongly to Reagan's and the Republican's advantage.

Not that Reagan personally is all that popular among Hispanics.

His recent campaign trip to the valley, for instance, left bitterness in its wake. Mexican-American voters interviewed refer to his remarks about people not living by bread alone and that a rising economic tide will lift all boats as examples of how out of touch he stands from reality in the valley.

"Reagan came down and said I promise I'll stick with you and keep you in my prayers," one man said, "and that a rising tide lifts all ships and even in the valley your ship will come up. Well, our ship has a big hole in the bottom. It ain't going to come up by itself."

And for every Hispanic moving to Reagan and the Republicans this year, many more express growing anger and frustration.

Two voices, one young, the other older:

Velia de Luna, 19: "It's a very important election because there's a lot of unemployment in the valley. I graduated in May from Mission High School. I've been looking for a job and I can't find one. I'll be going to college. I have a Pell grant, but I'm worried. Reagan supports more the rich than the poor people. I think he's supposed to help more the poor than the rich. I'll vote for Mondale."

Alonzo Menchaca, 56: "Right now the rich people are the better. Poor people, we're down. I'm just a working man, that's all. I drive a truck. Reagan is for the rich and powerful, and between the poor and the powerful the powerful always win."

He speaks from the vantage point of economic distress. Other Hispanics speak from the perspective of success.

This year, there are enough of them to make the difference politically. But long after this election the gulf between them seems certain to grow wider.

NEXT: Rockford and the Rust Belt