Former Alexandria vice mayor James P. Moran said yesterday if Mayor Charles E. Beatley does not publicly apologize for attacking four city officials he will challenge the mayor in the city's May 7 election.

Moran, 39, accused Beatley of refusing to admit his "grievous mistake in judgment by not calling for a moratorium on the recent character assassinations" of Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel, former City Manager Douglas Harman, Commonwealth's Attorney John Kloch and Sheriff Michael E. Norris.

Moran also blasted council member Donald C. Casey yesterday for criticizing the four officials, but said that he wasn't as much to blame, because "in a field of slander junkies, Casey is the street dealer and the mayor is the pusher."

"If he is going to be critical, I'd rather have him as an opponent than on the Democratic slate," Beatley said of Moran. "I welcome the opposition . . . . I didn't want our pictures printed on the same brochures anyway."

Moran is now on the Democratic ticket seeking a council seat. If he runs for mayor, he must file as an independent, since Beatley already has the party's nomination.

Because the mayor has said the special grand jury report, released Wednesday, does not end the review of allegations concerning Strobel, the four officials deserve an apology, Moran said. The grand jury said it found no evidence that Strobel improperly handled a 1984 police drug investigation or that Norris used or distributed drugs.

Neither Kloch nor Strobel would comment on Moran's call for Beatley to apologize. Norris and Harman could not be reached yesterday.

Moran, who resigned from the council in June after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge, said that Beatley insulted the commonwealth's attorney by insisting on another investigation after Kloch said last year that he had investigated the allegations against Strobel and Norris and found no criminal wrongdoing.

Harman was brought into the controversy because, as Strobel's superior, Beatley asked him to place last week the public safety director on administrative leave. Harman, who left Alexandria Tuesday to become the city manager of Fort Worth, refused to suspend Strobel.

Beatley denied yesterday ever attacking Kloch or Norris, and repeated what he has recently said about Strobel and Harman. "Something has gone awry in the Public Safety Department and we are going to have an administrative review to see what it is. I think Harman was wrong not to put Strobel on leave with pay."

Moran announced the conditions for his candidacy on the steps of the Circuit Court yesterday.

"I will not apologize for actions taken in the best interest of the city," Beatley said later.

The mayor said he was "very pleased that the director of public safety has been vindicated by the special grand jury," but added that he still thought an administrative review was necessary.

Beatley, a 68-year-old retired airline pilot who is seeking his sixth term as mayor, is so far unopposed in the race.

Moran, an Alexandria stockbroker, served two terms on the council. Should Beatley decide to apologize, Moran said, he would stay on the ticket as a council candidate.