Housing, jobs and better municipal management have become the central issues - along with the personalities and conduct of some candidates - in the Democratic race for an at-large seat on the D.C. City Council.

These issues, parallel to those in the mayoral campaign, have emerged in questions most often asked at neighborhood forums that are the major means of public exposure for the six men and three women running in the crowded field.

In a specific response of housing, H.R. Crawford, a real estate executive and former federal housing official urged this week that the old Shaw Junior High School be turned into a home for senior citizens.

Crawford said the vacant school, at 7th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, should be converted with grants already available to the city from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Other schools made surplus by a declining enrollment could be turned into hostel-type quarters for people displaces when old homes are bought and renovated by couples moving into central-city neighborhoods, Crawford said.

In the forums, most responses have been general. Betty Ann Kane, a member of the D.C. school board, has said she would push for speedy adoption of a housing plan. Marie S. Nahikian has said the housing issue centers on deciding who should live in the city's neighborhoods - its current dwellers or newcomers.

Absalom F. Jordan Jr., who this week received the endorsement of the Citywide Housing Coalition, a tenant group, has called for an end to "forced displacement" that results from selling rental housing or converting it to condominiums.

Goldie Johnson disagreed this week with the emphasis on housing. "Without a job, you can't get a house," she said, "and without an education, you can't get a job. They are more important."

Johnson said she, like Crawford, thinks "old schools should be used for emergency housing" or for senior citizens.

All the candidates have said they would press for holding the line on taxes and delivering city services more efficiently. Kane has claimed special expertise because she chairs the school board's finance committee.

With the campaign now entering its final full week, the candidates increasingly have begun to spar among themselves. Both Nahikian and Jordan have delivered sharp verbal blows at Kane over her views on city finance policy.

Crawford repeatedly has made critical remarks about all his rivals.

"I look at the other eight candidates," he told fellow guests at a wine and cheese party in the Palisades area of Northwest, "and I say, "If that's what you vote for, that's what you deserve."

He recounted how, at one forum, one of his rivals - a teacher, not identified by name - stood up and told the audience, "I's a teacher. I want to be your council." That, Crawford said, helps explain some of the city's educational problems.

At a forum Thursday at Ryland Epworth United Methodist Churh in the Hillcrest area of Southwest, rival candidate JePhunneh Lawrence, a lawyer, told of an encounter he had the previous night with Crawford. "He told me to sit down and shut up, that I didn't know anything about housing."

When the forum ended, candidates Lawrence, Johnson and Jordan held an impromptu joint interview which all three agreed the incident had occured and than on the same evening Crawford called Johnson "stupid" and described Jordan as "a jerk."

Crawford said yesterday that he never made the comment about Johnson, that he did not recall voicing the comment about Jordan and that it was the moderator of the Thursday forum who told Lawrence to sit down.

"It appears [making such accusations] is the only way they can get their names in the paper," Crawford said. He said journalistic attention to such incidents was irresponsible "when there are matters of substance not going reported."

According to his report this week to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Crawford continues to lead in campaign contributions, with $40,375 listed as of Tuesday. Kane had received $24,890; Nahikian, $8,075; Johnson, $1,746; and Hector Rodriguez, the only Latino candidate for any city office this year, $965.

Lee S. Manor reported contributions of $41. There were no current reports on file yesterday for Jordan, Lawrence or Robert V. Brown.

Despite the crowded field, none of the candidates has shown signs of dropping out. It is not uncommon for all nine to show up for a forum.

Although seeking a broad citywide base, an aide to Rodriguez said his candidate plans to poll the Hispanic community to try to find its preference in the tight race for mayor. Then Rodriguez expects to endorse that candidate in hope of riding in on his coattails.

One issue that has cropped up repeatedly is Kane's alleged use of the Board of Education as "a stepping stone" to City Council membership. Jordan criticized her for doing so Thursday night.

Without mentioning Kane, Crawford said he would advocate abolishing the elected school board and replacing it with a "commission" appointed by the mayor and the City Council.

Kane, asked for comment or Crawford's proposal, said it would be "a real step backward." She added that it "shows an undemocratic attitude toward citizen involvement."