Veteran Alexandria City Council member Robert L. Calhoun said yesterday he will not seek reelection in May, a move his peers called a blow to the Republican Party and a loss for the city.

Calhoun, 50, has served 10 years on the seven-member council and is one of two Republican members. The other Republican, Carlyle C. Ring Jr., is considering running against Democratic Mayor James P. Moran Jr. Should Ring seek the mayor's job, the GOP would field no incumbents in next spring's at-large race for the council.

Calhoun cited "a number of personal reasons" for stepping down, and said that "some of it" stems from the substantial amount of time he devoted to council duties. Calhoun is a partner in a Washington law firm, and other council members said that the obligations of his job and to the council had conflicted in recent months.

Both Democrats and Republicans praised Calhoun, saying his knowledge and experience will be missed. "You don't replace a Bob Calhoun, you send in a substitute," said state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell, an Alexandria Republican who served on the council and is one of the city's top vote-getters.

"He epitomizes what a good local official should be," Mitchell added. "Sometimes local government needs an engine and sometimes it needs a brake; Calhoun has the rare capacity to be both. His loss is a major blow to the Republican Party and the city."

Moran said, "I'm going to feel the loss personally. He is extremely intelligent, knowledgeable and conscientious. The council has relied on those assets and will miss them."

Calhoun, a descendant of the fiery South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, was first elected to the council in 1976 and served until 1982, when he ran for mayor and lost. He was returned to the council in a 1984 special election.

Noted for his knowledge of the city's zoning regulations and of regional organizations such as Metro, Calhoun is a stickler for detail. He also exhibited what Mitchell called a "gruff exterior and a tendency to suffer fools lightly."

"People in this city are a pleasure to work with, although they give us fits and starts from time to time," Calhoun said.

"There are very few places where people care as much about what goes on as they do here {in Alexandria}. The city works quite well most of the time, and I've had a great sense of accomplishment in that," he said.

Calhoun said that he is confident the Republicans will field an attractive slate of candidates in May, but declined to predict whether Ring will stay on the council or seek the mayor's job.

He said a Moran-Ring contest would be "a very interesting race."

"I want to see a new generation, people in their thirties and forties, take a hand in running this city, and I'm going to encourage them to get involved," Calhoun said.

He also said he would "keep open the option" of returning to public life.