Surrounded by gaily colored balloons and cheering supporters, former D.C. City Council chairman Sterling Tucker yesterday launched his bid to be returned to his old job, decrying four years of "fumbling around" by incumbent Arrington Dixon.

"The council is now disjointed. It seems they have lost track of their original mission," Tucker told about 100 supporters who sipped beer and punch and ate finger sandwiches during the campaign kickoff held at his headquarters downtown.

Meanwhile yesterday, Dixon's campaign staff said he spent about $20,000 last week to broadcast a one-minute commercial a total of 170 times on six radio stations, the first major media advertising in the three-way race for the Democratic nomination. The other candidate is Ward 1 Council member David A. Clarke.

Clarke, battling what he acknowledges is a name recognition problem outside his own inner city ward, led a coordinated effort yesterday to distribute 25,000 flyers in commercial areas around the city, then held a hotdog-and-beer party at his home in Mount Pleasant for more than 100 campaign workers.

Clarke delivered a short, but rousing speech atop his brick barbecue pit, and later said he expects to advertise on radio, possibly as early as next week. "If we are very fortunate we might get a little TV time" before the Sept. 14 primary, said Clarke, whose upbeat day was marred only by a bee that stung him in his back yard.

Tucker, who lost a 1978 bid for mayor to Marion Barry and abandoned a second try for that office earlier this year, billed his speech as a "major platform" statement.

He called for creation of a business enterprise zone to create jobs along the New York Avenue corridor and pledged to build "an alliance of government, neighborhoods and builders for affordable housing."

Tucker said he supports putting more police on the street to fight crime, implementation of a long-delayed comprehensive urban development plan and more services for senior citizens, though he made no specific proposals.

Both Dixon and Clarke criticized Tucker yesterday for deciding to run for chairman after two failed attempts at becoming mayor.

"I think the government has moved generations beyond where it was when we had the leadership of Mr. Tucker on the council," said Dixon.

Clarke said Tucker "would be surprised" at the independence of the council compared to its behavior when it was first formed in 1975. "In four years he'll want to run for mayor again. The council needs leadership within the council," Clarke said.

"I've never downplayed the significance of the chairman," Tucker said yesterday, adding that he thinks the independence of the council is healthy.

Tucker said Dixon allows too many important bills on the council's agenda at one time and said he does not support the no-fault auto insurance bill recently passed by the council. Dixon considers its passage one of his biggest accomplishments. Clarke also voted for the measure.

Dixon's activities yesterday included a scheduled fundraiser sponsored by Council member H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), the only council member to endorse any of the candidates for chairman so far.