Chairman Dewitt T. Hartwell and the management of Columbia First Federal Savings & Loan Association have won a close victory over Baltimore businessman Harold N. Goldsmith in a battle for three seats on the thrift's board.

The three incumbent board members each drew about 52 percent of the more than two million votes cast in the board election, the S&L announced yesterday, while Goldsmith and his colleagues each got about 44 percent. About 3 percent of the votes were not credited to either side for technical reasons.

"I feel very good about the results," Hartwell said. "I was optimistic that we were going to win."

Goldsmith declined to comment.

The fight over the board seats centered on Goldsmith's assertions that the financial performance of Columbia First was unspectacular and that the board needed fresh thinking that younger people could provide. Hartwell is 63; Goldsmith is 45.

Goldsmith is president of Eastern Savings Bank of Timonium, Md., and chairman of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., a retail clothing chain based in Towson. He owns 10 percent of Columbia First stock.

Hartwell, asked if he planned to make any changes at Columbia First in response to Goldsmith's complaints, said, "We will continue to be flexible. We will do what is in the best interests of the shareholders."

He added, "As I've tried to say to him {Goldsmith}, he's not a voice crying in the wilderness."

One of Goldsmith's running mates, Barry H. Stern, president of Stern and Moran Properties in Washington, said: "We'd have preferred to win... . We feel we could have been excellent additions to the board."

Stern said the challengers felt they could take credit for the thrift's decision to repeal a 10 percent limit on the number of shares a stockholder can own.

The management of Columbia First agreed to repeal that limit when it won the support of the Diana Corp. of Milwaukee, which holds 10 percent of the thrift's shares.

Before the proxy battle began, Diana wanted to be able to buy up to 24.9 percent of the stock, but management opposed it.

The opposition was dropped when Diana agreed to support management in two consecutive elections.

The outcome of the voting demonstrated how crucial Diana's support was to the reelection of the management board members.

Diana owns almost 240,000 shares, more than the margin of management's victory.

The winning directors were C. Gay Harrell Jr., executive vice president of Columbia First; James M. Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen Properties, and Flaxie M. Pinkett, head of a Washington real estate and insurance company.

They each received slightly more than one million votes, or about 52 percent of the two million shares that were represented in person or by proxy at the annual meeting last Tuesday.

Goldsmith, Stern and lawyer David C. Daneker of Baltimore, the challengers, each received about 909,000 votes, or about 44 percent of the shares voted.