Alexandria's three City Council candidates debated traffic, taxes and development yesterday, spelling out the issues for the Aug. 26 special election and revealing differences in personal style.

"The same octopus chokes us all -- traffic -- and we must mutually hack at the beast," Republican candidate Lou Cook said at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce forum.

Democratic candidate T. Michael Jackson agreed but said it differently: "There's a tremendous amount of traffic from other jurisdictions . . . we've got to manage it."

Traffic is a hot issue in the city's West End, where two proposed connector roads threaten now quiet neighborhoods.

Only Independent John D. Williams III defied the mounting neighborhood opposition to the Bluestone and Clermont Connectors by declaring that "they should have been built 10 years ago."

The three candidates are seeking the seat vacated by Republican Margaret B. Inman, who recently married and is moving to South Carolina.

Jackson, president of the Taylor Run Citizens Association and an Amtrak labor relations manager, and former School Board chairwoman Cook, again concurred on city services and taxes, saying that it is likely that neither will be cut. Some controlled development is needed, they agreed, particularly in the Eisenhower Valley.

Williams, president of the Alexandria Taxpayers Alliance, who unsuccessfully sought Republican endorsement for his candidacy, said the real estate property tax rate could be cut by 20 cents per $100 of assessed value with no change in services.

Williams advocated more development to lower the tax rate and said, "I almost cry every time I go by Braddock Road Metro station . Alexandria has three of the least developed Metro stops" in the Washington area.

Cook, considered by many to be the front-runner because of her leadership on the School Board, denied that her husband's position as president of a parking management firm with a city contract would cause conflict-of-interest problems.

The commonwealth's attorney has said her husband's city contract does not bar her from office, Cook said. Both she and her husband, A. George Cook, a former City Council member, "have been active in civic affairs for 26 years," she said. "I will not apologize for that."

Jackson, known for an unabrasive style and refusal to make negative remarks, disputed the notion that his name is not as widely known as Cook's. "Everyone in Alexandria has heard of Michael Jackson," he said, alluding to the highly popular rock singer.

As he has before, Williams yesterday attacked the city schools as having "the highest per pupil cost in the area and the lowest test scores" and press coverage: "Only 10 percent of the people know there is an election . . . . The papers haven't covered it . . . . In fact, we should get an opportunity several times a day" to inform the public.