Issues aren't as hot as candidates are in Ward 5. As the final weekend before the primary approaches, everybody seems to be pushing a favorite in one race or another, and heavy canvassing has been going on for weeks in the upper Northeast Washington ward.

"We've never had such a strong field of leaders running," said Bob King, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and president of the Fort Lincoln Civic Association. "We will not see another election like this for years, and the full meaning of what it will do to shape the city will not be determined for years to come."

Mayor Marion Barry molded the city's political body 12 years ago, King said. "This is the first time we've had a changing of the guard."

Bill Johnson, chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats, called it "one of the most difficult elections to really pin down that we have had in my lifetime . . . every person has their candidate."

Matthew Shannon, a politically active lawyer and former city employee, said the mayor's race in Ward 5 is a "hotly contested" one between D.C. Council members John Ray (D-At Large) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4).

King has a decidedly different view. "The only way anyone can catch John is if he falls down," he said. "There are some people who are running real hard for second place."

And several observers said that The Washington Post endorsement of lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon last week sent a "shock wave" through the ward that may well muddy the waters of all the candidates' campaigns.

While Council Chairman David A. Clarke has been "supportive," and a "friend of the people" in Ward 5, King said many people feel "it's time for a young black man . . . as a solid role model for our young people."

Del. Walter E. Fauntroy angered some voters when he decided to run for mayor because they believed the forfeiture of his seniority in Congress lost ground in the District's quest for statehood.

Former Carter administration official Eleanor Holmes Norton seems to be leading at-large council member Betty Ann Kane in the race for D.C. delegate to Congress. But both have waged "tough" campaigns in the ward, Johnson said.

Joseph P. Yeldell, a longtime city administrator, also seems to have a lot of support, while former D.C. anti-drug czar Sterling Tucker appears to be attracting little support.

Several political activists shied away from predicting the outcome of a hard-fought battle for the Ward 5 council seat. Democratic incumbent Harry L. Thomas Sr. "has not done anything that's not deserving of a second term," King said.

However, perennial Ward 5 council candidate Robert Artisst, who is challenging Thomas in the Democratic primary, "looks good and strong," Johnson said.

With the advantages of incumbency, Thomas "is probably ahead in the ward," Shannon said. "But I don't think he's unbeatable."

Ward residents are paying close attention to the candidates' plans to tackle the city's deficit. Many seniors and retirees, who are dependent on certain exemptions and benefits of current law, fear new or higher taxes.

Drug abuse, crime and personal safety are also issues of high concern in the ward, where the median household income is below the citywide average and 19 percent of the households fall below the poverty level.

The ward in Northeast is bounded by Kennedy Street and Fort Totten Park to the north; Eastern Avenue to the east; the Anacostia River, Benning Road, Florida Avenue and New York Avenue to the south; and New Jersey Avenue, Second Street and Michigan Avenue to the west.

Population (1988): 80,100

Blacks: 93 percent

Whites: 6 percent

Hispanics: 3 percent

Median Income (1986): $20,300

Registered Voters: 40,391

Democrats: 34,924

Republicans: 1,499