Tenants and store owners, lawyers and welfare recipients, professors and grocery clerks marched through last week's standing-room-only crowd at the Takoma Park municipal center to nominate candidates for the first ward-style election in the city's history, set for March 23.

Political observers agree that this is the end of an era of sleepy politics in the suburban community.

Politicians who have held council seats for two, four, even five two-year terms now must campaign to represent one of seven wards, in some cases finding themselves cut off from supporters elsewhere in the city and facing hungry challengers.

In past elections, up to five council seats were filled by candidates who ran in uncontested races. But by the end of last Tuesday's frenzy only one candidate, Frank Garcia in Ward 6, was unchallenged. And while one recent election drew less than 370 voters, nearly that many noisy boosters turned out at candidates' night, waving placards and issuing testimonials.

After three hours and 40 minutes, 17 nominees emerged for the post of mayor and seven council seats.

Running for mayor are two former rivals from the 1980 race, incumbent Sammie Abbott and challenger Ron Wylie.

Abbott, a 73-year-old fireball activist, once stood in front of bulldozers to prevent construction of a proposed freeway and another time seized the stage at a county board of education meeting, calling board members cowards for closing Takoma Park Junior High School.

Over the past two years, his sessions with the council have been marked by heated arguments, with members sometimes storming out in frustration when Abbott refused to entertain their motions.

Wylie, a 47-year-old Washington lawyer who has lived in Takoma Park since 1978, has served on several public and private commissions in the area, including Washington Adventist Hospital's board of trustees, the Employee Association at the National Institutes of Health and the 1981 White House Conference on Aging.

One by one, residents came to the microphone to sing the praises of each candidate.

One Abbott supporter told the audience that the mayor once led a legal battle to remove an autistic child, who was not retarded, from a Prince George's facility for the retarded. Another speaker, Joanne Hamer, said she was having trouble getting public assistance, but when Abbott heard about it, he "stood by me day and night" until the money came through.

Wylie supporters told of his helping a handicapped woman get federal aid, reuniting a Nigerian family and arranging free legal assistance for several Takoma residents who were victims of a consumer fraud.

In the council races, the new ward system, approved by voters in a 1980 referendum, will remove the citywide support many council candidates have counted on in past elections. And it threatens as never before the Citizens for Sound Government, an organization whose slate of candidates has captured every election since 1952. Candidates endorsed by the group--mostly incumbents--now must fight for support in their own districts.

In Ward 1, the only seat without an incumbent candidate, Mary Anne Leary and Louis D'Ovidio will compete.

In the other wards, the following candidates were nominated:

Ward 2: Carl Iddings and two-term council member Jennifer Saloma. Ward 3: William Eckert and one-term councilman Jim Holland. Ward 4: Herman Williams and incumbent Vernon Ricks.

Ward 5: Lynn McKinney, Lynne Bradley, Marc Elrich and incumbent Don Ramsey. Ward 6: Four-term member Frank Garcia. Ward 7: Janet Schwartz and four-term member Joseph Faulkner.