When Alvin Chauncey Frost was a boy he used to hide under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, reading far into the night from almost any book he could find.

He read the dictionary "like a novel." He read encyclopedias. "I liked Dickens and Mark Twain," he remembers, stroking the long, light brown beard that curls in Aristotelian locks from a face bemused in reflection. "That and science fiction... . Once you get beyond the rocket ships in something like Frank Herbert's 'Dune' trilogy, you get to ... how different creatures from alien backgrounds deal with each other, and what it takes for them to see beyond their differences to common interests and understandings. ... I don't think we're sensitized enough to that in our society."

Now that he's 43, and the Statehood Party's candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, Frost no longer needs a flashlight for his bedtime reading ("The Reflections of Marcus Aurelius" is his current choice), but some would say he's still under the covers.

His campaign has no money, no staff, no organization and no materials. He was fired from his last job, has been largely unemployed for four years, says he's $50,000 in debt and has at least one judgment against him. Divorced, with one daughter, he lives now with his parents in the tidy brick house near the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he and his four brothers grew up. His campaign re'sume' trumpets such rarely seen political credentials as his role of violinsoloist in elementary school, his 1978 and 1982 service as a petit juror in D.C. Superior Court, and his 1986 and '87 titles as third-best rib barbecue chef in the annual celebrity barbecue of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged (he placed first in 1988).

None of this appears to trouble Frost, who says his campaign has never been grounded on other people's expectations.

"I'm from D.C., and at some point I've always wanted to run for elective office, not as a lifetime career but as something to do for a set number of years," he said. "Then maybe I'll go back to the private sector or maybe teach in college."

Does he really expect to win?

"Stranger things have happened," he says.

"No one expected Sharon Pratt Dixon to win the Democratic primary. ... A year and a half ago, Maurice Turner wasn't considered a major candidate. ... It's not just a case of 'throw the rascals out' out there. People are casting about for the best person available."

Frost is best known as an early voice of rectitude within the administration of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry -- the senior cash management analyst fired in 1986 when he changed the password controlling the District's computerized accounting system, refused to divulge the new one to his superiors, and gave schoolchildren seven clues and an invitation to guess what it was.

He says he was trying to protect the District from financial malefactors the Barry administration. He had discovered, he says, that someone was hacking into the system through a phone line somewhere and moving data around without authorization.

The administration called it sabotage, the culmination of disruptive efforts by a chronic malcontent.

At one point, Assistant D.C. Treasurer Fred Williams accused Frost of attempted character assassination. "I informed him," Frost remembers, "that that would have been a victimless crime."

If Frost appears, at times, to glory in his self-appointed role of whimsical gadfly, he can arguably claim some of the best management credentials -- on paper, at least -- of any candidate on the ballot. The son of a government warehouse manager and a clerk in the Army budget office, Frost attended Chamberlain Vocational High School and holds a BS in industrial management from Lowell Technological Institute in Massachusetts and an MBA from Harvard.

He joined the District government in 1982 after eight years of intermittent work for various management consulting firms around the Beltway and sporadic business ventures of his own. The business ventures ranged from tree farming in North Carolina to the customizing of sports cars, variously incorporated under names like his present wholly owned self-subsidiary, Amaranth Concepts & Formulations, which, his resume says, provides "financial analyses, cash flow projections, design and development of data bases" as well as work on "a small book of poetry."

The name Amaranth, he says, comes from the title of a poem he wrote several years ago, and means an imaginary flower that never fades. "I liked that, and thought I'd keep it," he said.

Amaranth Concepts has also produced a 34-page "Proposed Plan for Fiscal Stability for the District of Columbia," subdivided into such categories as "Citizens' Grievances," "Crime and Drug Law Enforcement," "Infant Deaths" and "Youth Programs." The plan envisions $284 million in new spending for a variety of programs, of which the "Federal Crime and Drug Control Administration" would be asked for $125 million, Congress would be asked for $144 million, and "proper management" would supply the rest.

"People have asked me whether the Barry administration is just corrupt or everything that was going on was mismanagement," Frost says of his years with the city. "My answer is that it was both. You can't separate them... . But I think in the long run, incompetence and mismanagement has cost the city far more than corruption ... in both dollars and in its national image."

Frost began writing internal memos and unrequested studies of the irregularities in the Cash Management Office beginning in 1984 after numerous clashes with Barry loyalists, and became a key witness the following year in the D.C. Council's investigative hearings on cash management.

But he really fell on his sword on Jan. 21, 1986, with a 10-page letter to Barry declaring that "the general perception in this community and throughout the U.S. is that your Administration is, at best, incompetent, and at worse, immoral and corrupt."

In addition, Frost, who is black, said it was "no longer realistic or effective for the District ... with a majority black population and a black mayor {to continue} using racism as a reason for every personal and municipal shortcoming or failure. While racism continues to be a real concern in America, blacks will have to begin taking firm control over our own education, training, employment and politics by responding to relevant challenges and not reacting to every real or perceived threat as being racially motivated or inspired."

Few people in the District Building, he says, wanted to hear that.

Likewise, if there are legions of voters out there in this mayoral race clamoring for Frost's ideas, they've yet to tell the pollsters. Frost remains sanguine.

"Part of what this whole {campaign} process has done for me is to vindicate me to some extent, in light of what has happened to the mayor and the District government," he says. "I think I've won some respect from the voters and the other candidates... . They see I haven't turned this into a personal thing, either between me and the mayor or me and the other candidates... . I've seen too many people who have allowed something like this to fester in them. That festering becomes more disruptive to them than the problem they had in the first place. It can wreck your life."

At campaign appearances and forums, he says, he gives a different speech each night, in an effort "to keep growing as a candidate and avoid getting trapped in rhetoric. I think people appreciate that. They get very quiet when I speak and seem to listen. They come up to me afterward and ask questions. They're looking for good ideas."

But if they try to call and volunteer for his campaign, they have a problem: Alvin C. Frost Headquarters has an unlisted phone number.