Walter E. Washington says that, given a choice, he would just as soon forget the events of 15 years ago when he, as the District of Columbia's newly appointed mayor, walked its riot-torn streets night and day and did not sleep for five days.

It was Washington who, presiding over the charred remains of the riots, reassured the city's white business leaders that the coming of black political power was not only inevitable, but palatable.

He also helped to shape the rebuilding of part of the inner city, a process that he now says he hoped would have moved faster. It still has not been completed, but the ever-optimistic Washington, who with the advent of home rule became the city's first elected mayor in 1974, sees much that is good in what has happened in the last decade and a half.

He points to housing redevelopment in the inner city spawned by various churches, as well as new commercial complexes in the older sectors of the District and the completion of the long-sought D.C. Convention Center.

"We need to keep that going and expand it," he said. "There has to be some careful monitoring to see that people stay together, work together, communicate together.

"In time, you're going to have a renaissance in those riot areas, simply because there will be no land left elsewhere. It will be inviting and profitable."

Washington said that blacks have "a distance to go to get into the mainstream of economic life here." But he remains convinced that the District "is going to come into its own."

"The state of the District is better than it was 15 years ago, with opportunities not abounding, but developing, for all people willing to project themselves," he said.