The Ward 4 City Council race, which will be decided in the May 1 special election, has become as unique as the ward itself. It is a crowded contest between 15 candidates, most of whom boast of advanced college degrees, longtime neighborhood involvement and an expressed sensitivity to the needs of an area that is the second most affluent section of the District.

Ward 4 is tucked away in the upper tip of Northwest Washington, east of Rock Creek Park. For the past two decades, it has been the address of the city's established middle-class black elite-teachers, doctors and other professionals. It is the only ward in the city in which there is virtually no public housing.

The winner of the race will fill the remaining 19 months of Arrington Dixon's term. Dixon was elected council chairman last fall.

In addition to the crowded ballot, the Ward 4 race is brewing with more than half a dozen issues. They include aiding the elderly, reducing property taxes, eliminating sex-oriented business in the ward, increasing city services finding jobs for youths and improving D.C. schools.

Although 16 persons filed for the seat, Felix B. Redmond, a Democrat, said last week he has withdrawn from the race. However, Redmond's name will appear on the May 1 ballot.

At least five candidates appear to be running the most active campaigns, as evidenced by campaign contributions, political organization and demonstrated support from ward residents and community and political organizations.

As of March 10, the D.C. Board of Elections reported that the five candidates leading in campaign contributions were Charlene Drew Jarvis, a research scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda; Norman C. Neverson, a community activist and an executive with the Xerox Corporation; Barry K. Campbell, former City Council aide to Dixon; Dorothy M. Maultsby, a retired management analyst and one-time mayoral candidate, and Victoria T. Street, the school board member from Ward 4.

Jarvis had collected $3,580 by March 10; Neverson, $11,558.38; Campbell, $2,685; Maultsby, $1,587.90, and Street, $11,466.97, including $9.808 of her own money.

Three reports on campaign contributions and spending are required by the Elections Board. The next report is due April 23, and the final report is due June 10. Spending patterns could change before election day.

In addition to campaign contributions, the five candidates have drawn considerable support from voters and political and community groups and have developed complex campaign strategies.

A sixth candidate, Goldie Cornelius Johnson, a beautician, had collected only $468.47 in campaign contributions by March 10, but could do well in the race, observers say, because of the small but suprisingly strong support she drew in the at-large council primary last fall.

Many residents in the ward, including the 15 candidates, believe this race is still open. Almost anyone could win, they say, because the large number of candidates could split the vote, and there is a possibility of a small turnout for the special election.

One of the key precincts, number 62 in Shepherd Park, should certainly have its vote split, residents say, because at least seven of the candidates live there.

Meanwhile, all the candidates are careful to steer away from anything that might turn off affluent voters in Ward 4. In particular, they are avoiding being labeled as "community activists."

Although a number of successful District government officials, including the mayor, have won election by capitalizing on their roles as activists, the preception by a number of Ward 4 candidates is that the upper sections of the ward want a "professional" to represent them.

One candidate, Nathaniel Sims, said he was "upset" after reading a newspaper account that described him as a community activist. "I have a legal background and professional experience in government. That's how you should describe me."

Most candidates boast of particular "professional" credentials such as: being a lawyer (Sims and Richard Clark), being a school board member (Street), "working directly with council in drafting legislation" (Campbell) or "using a scientific approach to problem-solving" (Jarvis).

After hearing a handful of candidates list their credentials, Goldie Johnson said during a candidate forum last week: "I may not be a doctor nor a lawyer nor an Indian Chief, but I can get the job done."

As candidates have struggled to climb out of the political barrel, family names have been attacked, voting records and community participation have become issues, and general nitpicking has been a key tactic for some candidates.

Charlene Drew Jarvis, though not a clear front-runner in the race, has become an issue. Dixon is supporting her candidacy, and some of her opponents feel it is unfair for Dixon to take sides in the election.

Jarvis also has been attacked by other candidates as a newcomer to the ward.

She has pointed out, however, that she is a "third-generation Washingtonian," and attended local schools before living several years in Columbia, Md. Jarvis, the daughter of medical researcher Charles Drew, who developed a reliable method of separating blood plasma, believes critical issues in this race are property tax assessments, youth unemployment and providing adequate health care.

Another candidate, Norman Neverson, who was elected to the Fort Toten-area ANC chairmanship, believes the key issues include "cleaning up the ward, providing service to people" and finding ways to alleviate the cost of housing.

"I simply say when Ward 4 residents complained about high water bills, Norman Neverson responded. And when they complained about dirty alleys, Norman Neverson cleaned their alleys."

Barry K. Campbell, the former aide to Dixon, said he severed his relationship with Dixon because he decided to support Marion Barry for mayor rather than Sterling Tucker. Campbell now introduces himself to crowds as "Barry . . . you can remember it, Barry Campbell."

He said the key issues are obtaining new resources and providing more city services and effective leadership.

Dorothy Maultsby, who has won the endorsement of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, the largest umbrella labor organization in the area, said she believes clean and safe streets are among the chief concerns of ward residents.

Victoria Street, a school board member in a ward where a large number of D.C. teachers and administrators reside, said if there were another teachers' strike similar to the recent one, she would support the teachers. She said the key issues in Ward 4 include reducing excessive housing, health and transportation costs for the elderly, eliminating sex-oriented business in the area and stopping condominum conversions. CAPTION: Picture, Edward Hardy Sr. was among Ward 4 residents attending candidate forums last week. By Valerie Hodgson for The Washington Post