The streets are full of rumors that Sterling Tucker is considering an entry into the race for at-large member of the City Council.

And it's a rumor Tucker doesn't deny. He's considering the move--if he can get some measurable indication of widespread popular support.

But why, you might ask, would Sterling Tucker consider running for a City Council seat? Politically, couldn't this be considered a little akin to Reggie Jackson returning to the minor leagues?

After all, Tucker once held the leading job in the city council: chairman. In 1978, he just barely missed becoming mayor of this nation's capital. A couple of months ago, Tucker was all set to run for mayor again but decided not to challenge Barry for the Democratic nomination after all.

Tucker was one of the principal architects of modern city government in Washington. He provided creative leadership in converting from the old D.C. Board of Commissioners to the appointed council, on which he served, and then to the first elected council, which he chaired. He was one of the people who provided the blueprint of advanced thinking toward what is now called statehood, and helped earn increased respect for the city government.

Says veteran council member Polly Shackleton: "Sterling was an outstanding chairman and in the first four years of the elected council, he managed to really establish it as a body that could work together. People have called me and said they hoped there'd be some kind of draft to get him back on the council. I think he would bring a lot to the council."

Tucker's possible return to the council comes at a time when that body is losing influence--reacting rather than leading, falling into caucuses with little apparent direction. Although the council has independent authority and can function as a state legislature, with at one point as many as five of its 13 members angling to run for mayor, it looks increasingly like just a stepping stone to higher office--much the way the school board used to be.

A strong leader would have plenty of room on the stage on which to display any capability he possesses.

"It's not a deliberative body any more," says Tucker. "They are in competition with the mayor's office. But there is a role for the council to play--in making housing affordable and in creating jobs, for example."

But if Tucker is considering another go at the council, another attempt to offer leadership, why not run for chairman?

His answer is that as chairman he would by law have to give up his consultant business, where he has clients such as IBM and Washington Gas Light. Unlike the chairmanship, simple membership on the council is not a full-time job and barring ethical conflict, he could still keep outside clients, he says. "One reason I left public life was I needed more money with a daughter in college."

Tucker says further that not only is he not anxious to oust a sitting chairman, but also running for the lesser office demonstrates humility and willingness simply to serve.

It's easy to believe that Tucker might be politically gun-shy, having lost the race for the powerful mayor's post four years ago by just 1500 votes and having pulled out of this fall's mayoral free-for-all. But his reason for ruling out a race for the city's second-highest job strikes me as something of a cop-out, a way of opting for a safe bet rather than taking a risk.

If it seems like a lot of sacrifice to ask somebody to give up a business for public service, well, you can't have it all if you have leadership aspirations, especially if politics pumps in your blood as it palpably does with Tucker.

Granted, the chairman's race is more of a gamble. Tucker is a shoo-in for the at-large race partly because the list of candidates if very, very short. He would face two strong contenders for the chairmanship--current chairman Arrington Dixon and at-large council member David A. Clarke. But at least Tucker would get a chance to demonstrate that, at 58, he can still throw a punch. If he's going to go to the trouble of running, why not go for broke?

Tucker persists in hoping to "get some sense from the public--why should Sterling Tucker be running?"

I think the public might answer that question with more enthusiasm if he were running for the chair rather than the council's at-large seat.