As we prepare to vote in District primaries tomorrow, we do so against a backdrop of considerable turmoil and tarnish with the prospect of new leadership and change.

This first election in 12 years without Marion Barry at the top of the ticket has finally taken on an air of excitement, in part because so many are vying to succeed the mayor and to bring new faces to other city offices.

The time has come not so much to talk about personalities as to focus on how we would like Washington to look in four years.

I envision a city where the human element is given priority within the fiscal imperative. I know that is not a popular vision in a city where conventional wisdom says the fiscal crisis must be solved before all the social problems. But I am convinced that the right candidates will be able to deal with our human crises while they take on the fiscal challenge. The issue is where our next leaders will place their priorities.

This is the city I envision:

A city with a leadership dedicated to the proposition that the quality of life and the well-being of all its residents, rich and poor, are paramount.

A city whose leadership will put in place whatever programs it takes to reduce, once and for all, our infant mortality rate, now among the nation's highest.

A city that fosters hope among its young people, a conviction that their lives are of value and that they can make a contribution to better themselves, their families and their city. That presumes a leadership with experience in working with poor families and their problems, leaders who will look to offer new support systems to help parents convey values, culture and tradition to their children rather than leave them to squander their potential by dropping out of school or turning to drugs and violence.

A city where the basics of shelter and safety are met; a city without thousands of boarded-up houses while families live like cattle in crowded and degrading shelters that bloat the pockets of selected fat cats. We need leaders who can bring together government, commercial developers and communities to create more low- and moderate-income housing.

A city where every government worker does his or her job, like it or not, as if it were a sacred duty because the vision of elected leaders for a responsive government inspires and rewards such dedication -- even though it may mean across-the-board job cuts.

A city where black youths who succeed win praise as much as those who fail win headlines. We need leaders who will work to create public/private partnerships that could create needed jobs for unemployed black men.

A city where people do not die of AIDS and other illnesses for lack of education, medical care or fear of stigmas in their communities.

A city where everyone stands a little taller because we have moved closer to ending the injustices spawned by our lack of statehood.

A city where people, young and old, are not afraid to walk the streets for fear of crime and violence because leaders place law enforcement officers in the communities that need them most.

A city where people in every class and race pledge a greater degree of tolerance, generosity, empathy and understanding because its leaders are working to bring the different factions of the community together.

A city where leaders take responsibility for their words and actions and, if they are wrong, promptly admit the mistake, correct it and move on.

A city whose leaders are competent, honest and knowledgeable about the workings of the city but willing to try new ways of doing things.

I know this is a tall order and, no doubt, too much to be realized in four years. But I also believe a start toward these goals, shared by most Washingtonians, can be made tomorrow if each of us inspects the candidates with a new eye, an eye directed not only at their words and records but also at their souls.

Will he or she share these priorities? Does he or she have the right vision for this city? Can he or she bring together disparate elements of this nation's capital in a way that is healing and, yes, visionary? It will take no less than this to end the nightmare of the last several years and realize the potential of this city and all of its people.