James Christian, a Washington lawyer who pledged to help heal rifts within his party, was elected chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee last night, succeeding Ivanhoe Donaldson, who stepped down after one term.

Christian, a former Capitol Hill aide and general counsel to the D.C. City Council, defeated Larry Weston, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association, by a vote of 39 to 22.

Weston had expressed interest in the seat last month but waited until last weekend to launch an all-out campaign for the post, after many party officials assumed that Christian had the race locked up.

Weston gained on Christian, a law partner of former party chairman Robert Washington, primarily with the overwhelmingly support of Ward 2 Democrats.

Personal wealth was an issue in the campaign, according to some committee members, with many concluding that Christian was financially better able than Weston to pick up part of the tab for travel and entertainment as head of the local party.

"It was an issue raised with me: that I wasn't wealthy enough to be the chairman," Weston said after the vote.

Daria P. Winter, vice chair of the party, William H. Simons, recording secretary, Janette Hoston Harris, corresponding secretary, and Richard Clark, treasurer, were reelected.

Simons, who headed the Washington Teachers Union for 20 years before losing to challenger Harold Fisher on May 23, had a tough time retaining his party post. Simons and Ward 3 Democrat Kathy Foster deadlocked for five ballots before Simons finally won, 37 to 28.

Christian, 37, a Harvard Law School graduate who also was director of government relations for the Potomac Electric Power Co., described himself last night as "a consensus leader" who could help build the party.

"I don't think anyone can question that I am a person of high moral quality," he said.

A few Democrats were upset about Christian's candidacy because he is an ex officio member who didn't have to run in a city Democratic election for a seat on the state committee.

He quickly locked up support after Donaldson decided not to seek a second one-year term because of the demands of his job with E.F. Hutton Inc. and legal problems stemming from a grand jury investigation of Donaldson's activities while he served in Mayor Marion Barry's administration.

Sharon Pratt Dixon, the D.C. Democratic National Committeewoman and treasurer of the national party, delivered a tribute to Donaldson at the meeting that drew a standing ovation.

"It was a good year, but having a change in leadership is good," Donaldson told a reporter.