Sterling Tucker, the first elected chairman of the D.C. Council, says he has jumped back into politics because he wants to put cities and their problems back on the national agenda.

"I never really left the community or the people," said Tucker, the man who came close to being elected mayor in 1978, coming in second in a three-way Democratic primary contest won by Marion Barry.

Now Tucker, 66, hopes to become the District's congressional delegate, and he is counting on his 30 years of national and local public service to help him secure the Democratic nomination for that office. As the District's non-voting delegate, Tucker would push Congress for more federal assistance, not just for the nation's capital but for urban communities across the country.

"The problems of housing and the homeless, of transportation, of drugs and crime are not strictly District issues," Tucker said. "If we isolate ourselves, we miss the opportunity of affecting national policy and programs. And I understand these issues -- I've been involved in all of them."

Not that Tucker doesn't have some decidedly local concerns, too. He would work to increase the federal payment to the District and try to strengthen the city's budget authority, which he said has been undermined by congressional "second-guessing of the council on legislation."

He said his major challenge would be to protect the District's ability to govern itself.

"We're at the point now where there's been an erosion of home rule and a loss of respect for the city," Tucker said. "There's no real partnership existing between the federal government and the District."

In his varied roles of government service, Tucker said he has demonstrated an ability "to work with both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans." He believes he is well suited to represent the District and to deal with a White House long controlled by Republicans.

Tucker's credentials are extensive. An Akron, Ohio native and the fourth of eight children, he is a graduate of the University of Akron, where he majored in sociology. During his career, he has worked as field services director for the National Urban League; executive director of the Washington Urban League; and chairman of the Coalition for Self-Determination, the group that lobbied for home rule for the District.

He served 10 years on the D.C. Council, first as a vice chairman appointed by President Nixon in 1969 and then as the first elected council chairman, serving between 1975 and January 1979. While chairman, Tucker also served as president of the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments and chaired the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during preparations for the opening of the Metro system.

After losing the mayor's race to Barry, Tucker took a job as an assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Carter administration, where he directed the Federal Fair Housing program.

He tried unsuccessfully to regain the council chairman's post in 1982, and ran his own consulting firm until last summer, when Barry named him to a Cabinet position as the District's "anti-drug czar."

Tucker is buoyed by privately commissioned polls showing that he trails Democratic rivals Eleanor Holmes Norton and council member Betty Ann Kane by only a few points. He believes that many of the voters have yet to focus on the delegate's race and that when they do his candidacy will benefit because of his high name recognition and widely recognized experience.