Since the beginning of Poland's Solidarity union movement, a large Solidarity flag has flown prominently in front of the International Union of Electrical Workers building directly across 16th Street from the Soviet Embassy. Over the years there has been little controversy about the flag, but with Mikhail Gorbachev scheduled to be in residence at the embassy next week, the union has received a pointed suggestion that it might be a good idea to keep the flagpole bare for a while.

IUEW President William H. Bywater said yesterday that two uniformed officers -- from which agency he wasn't certain -- came by the union building Tuesday and told an employe that the flag should not be flown, at least during the Gorbachev visit, because it was a protest against the Soviet Embassy. "We told them no," Bywater said with sharp finality, surprised and angry that anyone would have made such a request. "We've flown that flag since the beginning of the Solidarity problems in Poland. Why should I take it down? What does it have to do with the Soviets? It's staying up there." Out and About

Hospital Report: Pathology tests have determined that former House speaker Tip O'Neill's prostate was not cancerous, a spokeswoman at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital said yesterday. O'Neill underwent surgery for removal of the enlarged gland Monday ...

Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot, who readily acknowledges that he won his seat in the legislature last November because he played up his distant kinship with the late actor Franchot Tone, plans to take further advantage of the famous name and run for Congress. Franchot, a Democrat, intends to announce this weekend that he will run against Rep. Connie Morella, whose district is made up of much of Montgomery County. Franchot never met his actor relative (second cousin, once removed), who died in 1969, but Tone had a hand in the campaign nonetheless. "He's what helped me get elected. He solved the big problem of name recognition for me," Franchot said. "There's a lot of substance in politics, but there is also a lot of style." There might be something to what he says. He ran in a field of 11 candidates in 1986 for three delegate seats and came in first ...

Actor Jimmy Stewart was at the National Press Club Wednesday night for a special showing of his film classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a movie that had a controversial Washington premiere 48 years ago. Senators didn't like the way they were portrayed in the film about the idealistic young senator, and reporters didn't like being portrayed as heavy drinkers. Former Press Club president Arthur Hachten, who had protested to the film's director Frank Capra in 1939, said Wednesday that all is now forgiven, but added, "journalists are no more drunkards than anyone else" ...

Marlee Matlin, the engaging young actress who won the Academy Award in March for her role in "Children of a Lesser God," says that the Oscar contributed to the breakup of her two-year romance with her costar William Hurt. In an interview in Glamour magazine, Matlin said she thinks her success frightened Hurt. "It really shocked him when I won the Oscar because it took him a long time to win {for "Kiss of the Spider Woman"}. He'd gone through a great deal. I had just started." She added, "I wouldn't say we are friends." That may be an understatement after he reads what she said ...

An editor's never around when you really need one. In Margaret Truman's "Murder in the CIA," the eighth in her series of Washington murder novels, there's a bit of strange Washington geography. At one point, a character lands at National Airport and then goes to a sporting goods store in Maryland a few blocks from the District line to buy bullets. Then, after buying the ammunition, she walks to the Watergate Hotel to check into a room overlooking the Kennedy Center. Now that must have been some walk ...