The D.C. statehood convention grappled yesterday with the philosophy of free and unfettered delivery of the mail--not as an article of the city's proposed constitution, but as an internal housekeeping chore at convention headquarters.

The 40-minute debate was triggered when an anonymous and sarcastically worded "Alternative Caucus" newsletter appeared yesterday in the mailboxes of the 45 delegates at convention headquarters in the old Pepco Building at 10th and E streets NW.

Several delegates said they found personal remarks in the newsletter offensive. At-large delegate Barbara Lett Simmons said the convention mailboxes should have a "certain sanctity" and be barred to "every Tom, Dick and Harry off the street."

But she set off a storm of protest when she made a formal motion to "secure the mailboxes so they are private, through the convention administration and staff."

"This smacks of censorship," said Ward 1 delegate Marie Nahikian. "It's not right to have repressive measures just because we don't like something we receive in the mail."

Simmons countered that her motion had nothing to do "with cracks in our constitutional rights," but the motion went down to defeat.

The two-page newsletter chided the convention for what it described as its chaotic and slow-moving atmosphere, with sarcastic references to alleged secret attempts by the convention's black caucus to control the officers and agenda of the convention.

The language of the newsletter indicated that the author is highly familiar with internal convention politics and individual delegate personalities. Several delegates said they suspect the author must be a fellow delegate.