In many ways, it was business as usual at the D.C. Council yesterday. Chairman David A. Clarke (D) maintained parliamentary order, Nadine P. Winter raised questions about legislation, and John A. Wilson and John Ray shared private jokes at the corner of the dais.

But, there was an air of pending change, hinted at when Clarke banged a gavel opening the session on the council's first day back from summer recess.

Clarke welcomed his colleagues back from "the political wars" and congratulated those members who were successful in last week's primary. "Some of us weren't so successful," he added with a smirk. "But we're here for a little while, so let's go ahead."

Clarke, Ray and council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) were making their first public appearances after their defeat in the Sept. 11 Democratic mayoral primary at the hands of Sharon Pratt Dixon.

Also on the dais was Betty Ann Kane, an at-large council member who was beaten by Eleanor Holmes Norton in the Democratic primary for D.C. delegate.

Clarke, Winter and Kane will be leaving the council when their four-year terms expire in January, while Ray and Jarvis still have two years left in their terms. Winter was ousted in her bid for a fifth term as the Ward 6 representative on the council.

While no one besides Clarke mentioned the elections at yesterday's session, which was devoted to fairly mundane business, the pending transfer of power was clearly on the minds of many people in the District Building.

The council will be losing three of its most experienced legislators, including two -- Clarke and Winter -- who were members of the original council in 1975.

"I felt a sense of sadness," said council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large). "It is a very significant change in the character of the council . . . . Most of the people who are leaving were active in the civil rights movement, while the new people were the beneficiaries of that movement."

Wilson also waxed nostalgic, paying special tribute to Kane, perhaps the council's leading fiscal conservative, whose departure he described as a "big loss" for the city.

Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) said he is considering legislation to provide for lump sum severance payments to Clarke, Kane and Winter. He said the size of the payment has not been determined, but would not exceed a combined total of $60,000.

In other action, Mayor Marion Barry submitted to the council recommendations for a 2 percent pay increase for 24,000 city workers in fiscal 1991, and a 1 percent lump sum payment for union employees in December. The cost of the package is about $31.5 million, part of which has already been budgeted. The mayor said that government agencies will have to absorb the rest in their existing budgets.

Clarke said he had no feelings of regret yesterday. "It's my job," he said. "You go into this kind of thing and you know you face the possibility of defeat. You can't be bitter about it."

Clarke, 46, is a lawyer, but hasn't practiced since the early 1970s, before he went on the council. He said he wasn't sure what he is going to do after January. For the time being, he said, he has started clearing out his office and preparing files for his successor.

Winter mused on her surprise defeat by Harold Brazil, a former power company lobbyist, saying she believes she was caught up in the thirst for change after 12 years of political rule by Barry.

Winter said she is unsure about her plans. She emphasized that she is not "looking for a job," and said she intends to focus on volunteer civic advocacy. "I'm an organizer," she said, "and poor people don't have a voice for them."

Ray and Kane left the council meeting before they could be asked about their plans. Jarvis said she has no intention of leaving politics and plans to run for reelection to her Ward 4 seat in 1992.

"I've not thought beyond 1992," she said. "I'm planning to be the finest Ward 4 council member my constituents deserve."