Call out the National Guard, D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) declared on Friday, to cheers from neighborhood residents who were battle-fatigued from the drug violence raging in their streets.

Hire at least 150 new D.C. police officers, council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) said the same day in another part of the city, as the television crews jockeyed for position around her.

The sudden escalation of drug violence in the District has prompted a volley of new crime-fighting proposals from elected representatives. But behind the policy questions, the unmistakable outline of a political battle is forming: Rising violence is beginning to shape the council campaign season, especially in Southeast wards 7 and 8.

"This is going to be an issue not only in wards 7 and 8," said John Ray (D-At Large), who is up for reelection. "It's going to be an issue throughout the city. {But} the focus will be keener in the ward campaigns. There's just been more activity there."

The first sign that crime would move to the center of the political stage came after the slaying Dec. 11 of 17-year-old Kendall Merriweather, who was gunned down on a Southeast street by two teen-agers who robbed him of his boom box radio.

The killing and its aftermath triggered intense political activity, with council candidates and their opponents maneuvering to take a position on a case that was swiftly becoming a symbol.

Democrats Crawford and Rolark, who are up for reelection, criticized Republican Carol Schwartz (At Large) for getting involved with Barbara Merriweather, the slain youth's mother. Schwartz, who is seeking reelection, retorted that she had every right to try to help Merriweather.

Schwartz assisted the Southeast woman in forming a group to fight youth violence, and helped organize a march on Jan. 16 in Rolark's ward.

For all three council members, the crime issue is a politically important one, observers agree. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who does not face reelection this year, says that when a crisis takes hold, such as the recent surge of drug violence, politicians have no choice but to react.

"The problems that are out there are not always solvable by government," she said. "But citizens demand that you do something. When they look to government, they look to politicians."

District voters in the Nov. 8 general election will choose two at-large council members, as well as representatives from wards 2, 4, 7 and 8. It is in wards 7 and 8, though, that incumbents Crawford and Rolark face an electorate rocked by the worst violence. Those voters are also important to Schwartz, a Ward 3 resident who is expected to campaign aggressively in wards 7 and 8 for her citywide seat, as she did in her unsuccessful 1986 mayoral bid.

Nearly one third of the homicides reported this year were in the 7th Police District, which lies in wards 7 and 8. Last year the 7th District had more killings -- at least 68 out of a total of 228 -- than any other police district.

"It's a matter of life or death," Rolark, the chairman of the council's Judiciary Committee, which oversees the police department, told the mayor in a letter last week calling for more police.

Crawford, also stepping up his activities last week, held a news conference Friday in a Southeast neighborhood and called on the mayor to declare a state of emergency and mobilize the National Guard.

Last month, he and Rolark initially criticized Schwartz privately for her involvement with the Merriweather family. But the undercurrent of tension burst into the open when Schwartz and Merriweather appeared on a WRC radio talk show on Jan. 15 to discuss the planned march.

The program heated up after Schwartz and Merriweather went off the air and WRC host Joel A. Spivak began taking phone calls from listeners.

The first caller, a woman who identified herself as "Carolyn" from Southeast, commended Merriweather and Schwartz, calling the council member "one of the few people we can depend on in this council to help us in Anacostia right now."

That caller prompted an immediate phone call to the radio show from Calvin Rolark, the council member's husband, and set the airwaves jumping when Wilhelmina Rolark, Crawford and Schwartz each telephoned, accusing one another of playing politics with Kendall Merriweather's death.

"I think it is grossly unfair for Carol Schwartz to have come in this area and not even extend me the courtesy of letting me know what she was planning to do," said Calvin Rolark.

"She did not even contact my wife, who's a member of the city council, chairs the Judiciary Committee and is a tireless worker," Rolark continued. "I think it is atrocious and it is most unfortunate that here a young, innocent, young black boy has been killed and we are having this protection of turf."

Schwartz, denying any political motives, countered that as an at-large council member she represents the entire city and was proud to help Merriweather, who, she said, initiated the contact with her.

"Excuse me, excuse me," host Spivak chimed in, saying Crawford was now on the phone.

Crawford said of Wilhelmina Rolark, "She understands her ward more so than other members. We respect her boundaries. Very seldom do at-large members come into the wards without a dialogue."

The bickering and jockeying provided the first glimpse of the political alignments involved in the campaign for the three council seats.

Phil Pannell, who worked in Schwartz's campaign for mayor and is considering running against Rolark, played a pivotal role in organizing the march and initially put Merriweather in contact with Schwartz.

"I think it's wrong that people, because of their adolescent political attitudes, would try to stop folks from trying to help," Pannell said.

In addition, Johnnie Mae Rice, who works on Schwartz's staff, played a role in helping Merriweather get her brother released from Lorton Reformatory to attend her son's wake and funeral. Rice, who ran against Crawford four years ago, is expected to challenge him again this year.

Some potential candidates, meanwhile, took a low profile. School board members Nate Bush (Ward 7) and R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), both planning to challenge the council incumbents in their wards, were supportive of the march, though neither participated because of prior commitments, they said.

William Lightfoot, who is running as an independent against Schwartz, also did not participate in the march, though he said he talked with Rolark about it. Lightfoot is a former aide to Rolark.

Tom Chorlton, a Statehood candidate who also is seeking to unseat Schwartz, did not attend the march and neither did Absalom F. Jordan Jr., who is considering running against Rolark. Jordan said he avoided the event because of its political overtones.

"We have to deal with crime daily," he said. "There are shootings daily. There are drug sales daily. We're looking for solutions so we can try to cut through these problems."