It wasn't until the television cameras arrived to tape James P. Moran Jr. washing breakfast dishes in his Alexandria home yesterday that the reality of his position in the public eye struck home, he recalled later.

The unaccustomed attention was for the mayor-elect of Alexandria, who the previous day defeated his former colleague, five-term Mayor Charles E. Beatley, by nearly 2,000 votes.

When the cameras were gone, the 39-year-old stockbroker cleared off his kitchen table and drove to the city's Public Safety Department to find its director, Charles T. Strobel. He said he made that visit the first business of his day because the department is "one of our biggest problems. There's a lot of dissatisfaction among the policemen."

Moran, whose Tuesday victory at the polls represents a decisive political comeback since he resigned as vice mayor last June after pleading no contest to a conflict-of-interest charge, later outlined his plans for the city after he is sworn in July 1.

Boosting morale in the police department, where Strobel "seems to show favoritism . . . and is autocratic," is a top priority, he said.

"We have to look at human needs and not just development," the mayor-elect said, drawing a distinction between himself and Beatley, whom he once considered his political patron.

"We have to make sure we have good schools and well-paid teachers, day-care facilities and affordable housing." Before providing for further development on the city's Potomac waterfront -- a major contribution of Beatley during his years in office -- Moran said he would lower the tax rate.

As Moran talked to a reporter over lunch in an Old Town patio restaurant, a citizen spotted him and shouted: "What's it like to knock off Beatley?"

"It feels good," Moran shouted back. "It was time for a change."

The grandfatherly Beatley's stewardship, which spanned 18 years (he sat out one three-year term in the late '70s) was seen by some -- particularly by the City Council's Republican minority -- as becoming increasingly partisan.

Alexandria Republican Chairwoman Jane Ring called the election results exciting and added: "I think we're going to see a different tone in the city. It'll be less partisan. Jim knows he got a lot of Republican support."

A lifelong Democrat, Moran challenged Beatley as an independent ecause the mayor had gotten the Democratic endorsement.

Although Republicans did not win a majority on the seven-member council, they did reseat their three incumbents. Republican Margaret B. Inman polled the largest number of votes, thus becoming likely to earn the title of vice mayor.

"I'm optimistic that the council can work more like colleagues than it has in the past," said Republican council member Robert L. Calhoun, who was reelected along with Republican Carlyle C. Ring.

The only council member who was defeated for reelection was Democrat Donald C. Casey.

The defeat of both Casey and Beatley was in large part attributed to their attacks on Strobel after a community newspaper reported allegations that Strobel improperly halted a 1984 police drug investigation. A city grand jury investigated those allegations, then issued a report exonerating Strobel and criticizing "the callous, politically motivated activities of certain members of the . . . City Council."

Although they were not named, Beatley and Casey were clearly the targets of that language.

When Casey heard yesterday that Moran was planning to keep a close eye on the Public Safety Department, he chuckled and said: "We all know there are problems there, but Moran is not going to do anything to Strobel. He's too close to him to keep him in line."

Casey said that after nine years on the council he will find it difficult to sit on the political sidelines. He then managed a swipe at Moran and the mayor-elect's past conflict-of-interest difficulties, saying: "I'm glad I don't have to spent the next three years keeping Moran honest."

Until the votes were tallied Tuesday night, the often bitter Beatley-Moran race was considered a tossup.

Both had recently fallen from public favor: Beatley reminded voters that Moran was still on supervised probation for his misdemeanor conviction, and Moran calling the mayor "a sleaze."

But Moran ended up with a clear victory over Beatley, getting the majority of votes in Old Town, the black communities and 25 of the 32 election precincts. Only in pockets of the West End, where Beatley lives in his Seminary Hills home, did the mayor come out on top after 36 percent of the 52,000 registered voters cast ballots in the mayor's race.

Beatley, who went to his 300-acre farm in Warrenton yesterday, said Tuesday night he was "outgunned" in the race "in more ways than one" -- an apparent reference to Moran's $40,000 in campaign funds and 2,000 active volunteers. He said he will stay close to politics in the city, but not as a candidate.

* Grand Jury Continuing ---Alexandria Police Probe --

A federal grand jury is continuing to probe allegations of misconduct in the Alexandria police department, an issue that many city politicians said was pivotal in the city elections Tuesday.

Nine people, including six police officers, were called Monday before the jury that is meeting in the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Williams has declined to say what the panel, which began its investigation in February, is examining.