Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) used to get calls at home in the middle of the night from District residents with all kinds of pressing problems.

"Sometimes it was a garbage problem, sometimes it was a neighbor raising heck," Randolph recalled in a recent interview.

This was a half-century ago, when he was a member of the House District Committee from 1933 and then chairman from 1939 to 1946.

In those days, no one talked of home rule for the District, said Randolph, 82, retiring now after a career in the House and Senate that spanned 52 years.

"The District of Columbia did not suffer" under the system in place then, and he never got the feeling that people in the city thought it was unfair, the senator said. But home rule has worked out fairly well, he added.

"The problems are still here -- the police department, construction of roads and buildings," he said. "It's still just individuals. . . . They have just about the problems we had, only magnified."

Members of the committee then were considered the unofficial mayors of the city and they dealt with "every issue. It could be traffic problems, it could be the number of police, the number of firemen we had," Randolph recalled.

Once, he met at midnight in the old Uline Arena with a group of several hundred taxicab drivers who were planning to go on strike. It was wartime, and Randolph said he explained that people were coming to town "on the business of winning the war."

He never threatened them, the senator said, just appealed to their patriotism. By 1 a.m. they had agreed not to strike, and Randolph had just done one of his jobs as District Committee chairman, he said.

Congress liked to put members from nearby states in charge of that committee, Randolph said, and he was not unfamiliar with the city. West Virginians came to Washington frequently on trips in those days, he said.

The first time Randolph had been to Washington was in 1912, when he was 10, to watch Ty Cobb play baseball.