Controversy used to be as easy to find in Alexandria as a tourist in Old Town, but after Mayor James P. Moran Jr.'s first 100 days in office, the big news is no news.

"You'd have to look behind the picture frames or under the carpet to find anything," City Council member Patricia S. Ticer said of the recent calm at City Hall. "For the first time in years, I can come home from council meetings and my husband will still be up. That's never happened before. He used to watch me on cable and leave me notes about something I said."

Alexandria's shorter, less contentious council meetings have brought much praise for Moran.

"It's less partisan than it was before, less personal, less nasty," said council member Robert L. Calhoun, a Republican.

The new Democratic mayor, Calhoun said, "is a pleasant change from the past."

In May, Moran defeated five-term incumbent Charles E. Beatley, who many said was brought down because the bickering among staff and officials had hit an intolerable level. Since then Moran has said that he believes the bickering has ceased.

Moran's critics and supporters have given him high marks for bringing the city so little publicity in his initial months in office.

The only decision in City Hall to create headlines recently was the unanimous selection of Acting City Manager Vola Lawson to be permanent manager.

But, they quickly point out, Moran's true test will come when a controversy or crisis does emerge, and his next 100 days may not be so easy as the council begins to tackle the sticky problems of development and traffic.

Along with the praise for bringing cohesion to a torn, partisan council, Moran also has elicited a few less glowing remarks.

"He seems to have less influence than he had at the outset," Calhoun said. "Maybe because he is spreading himself too thin."

Another City Council member said that the tension that culminated in the May election and cost Beatley and veteran council member Donald C. Casey their seats has not evaporated.

At best, the City Council member said, the present detente could be described as a "fragile friendship."

Several officials noted that Moran often changes his mind on issues such as support for the city bus system and development projects.

And because he does, they said, he is not perceived as being solidly behind any cause or any person, a quality some see as inconsistent with strong leadership.

Moran, however, sees it differently. "I interpret it as having an open mind and not being type-cast or under anyone's thumb."

"The fact is he does change his mind a lot," said council member Lionel Hope, a Democrat.

For example, Hope said, Moran "stuck his neck out for Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel before he was elected," demanding that Beatley apologize to Strobel for publicly criticizing him.

Now, in light of several recent lawsuits that have been filed against Strobel, including one by a respected former police officer, Greg Rippey, Moran has backed off in his support and is saying, "I want to look at all the facts" concerning Strobel before making any decisions about his tenure.

Looking ahead to the next three months in office, Moran seemed eager to tackle several issues.

He said that by the end of the calendar year, he is determined to settle all lawsuits that the city is involved in, particularly those concerning Strobel's administrative practices.

"We are going to be reasonable to both sides and resolve these out of court," Moran said.

In addition, the mayor said that in the next few months he expects to take a close look at the organization of the Public Safety Department, implement a more orderly budget process and complete development studies on the West End and Arlandria to control fast-paced construction.

But, for now, he said, "I'm enjoying the good news that there is no news."