Democratic mayoral nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon, who has made a pledge against new taxes a central part of her campaign, said last night she might sign a tax increase into law if the D.C. Council insisted on it.

Maurice T. Turner Jr., Dixon's Republican rival in next Tuesday's mayoral election, seized on her statement during a debate on WUSA-TV (Channel 9), saying, "You are taking a follower's position, rather than being a leader."

"You could veto that -- I mean, just let them overrule you," Turner told Dixon.

"Well, I just might," she replied.

Dixon's statement during the hour-long debate marked the second time during the campaign that the Democratic candidate appeared to soften her stance against new taxes. After deriding the prospect of any new taxes as "absolutely criminal" in July, Dixon said in an interview last month that she might approve a tax increase measure if the 13-member council sent her one.

Last night, Dixon repeated her aversion to new taxes, but said she might acquiesce to council members if they "insisted upon that as a provision as the only way to achieve the kind of streamlining we're talking about."

"I don't absolutely rule it out, if they insisted upon it," Dixon said. "But I personally believe that we can avoid taxes in the District of Columbia by streamlining the bureaucracy."

The Dixon-Turner clash over taxes was one of several disagreements they voiced during the WUSA debate, which was broadcast live. The mayoral debate also featured D.C. Statehood Party nominee Alvin C. Frost, who had difficulty getting a word into the discussion dominated by Turner and Dixon.

Turner, a career police officer who served eight years as chief before his retirement in 1989, said he favored relaxing the District's stringent gun-control law to permit law-abiding residents to own handguns.

"Gun control is the way to go," Dixon countered. "I just think it's irresponsible to suggest that we're going to go out and arm citizens, most of whom do not have the training to deal with this kind of situation."

Turner also made some of his sharpest statements to date about social and economic difference between himself and Dixon, both third-generation Washingtonians who grew up in similarly modest surroundings.

"I had a tougher life than she did," Turner said at one point. "That's what I am, a street dude."

"I came up on the rough side," he added. "She had a better upbringing than me."

Turner also made a strong appeal for crossover Democrats in the Nov. 6 election, using his closing statement to remind viewers that come Election Day, "no one will know but you and the good Lord" what choices residents will make in the voting booth.

Earlier yesterday, Dixon blamed the District's escalating homicide rate on the "residual effects" of the years that Turner served as police chief.

During taping for the "Capital City Magazine" show to be aired Sunday morning on WTTG-TV (Channel 5), Dixon defended the record of current chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., saying that while the city's recent homicide rate has fast approached those of the Turner years, it is because Fulwood is "dealing with the residual effects of Mr. Turner's tenure."

WTTG is scheduled to air brief exchanges between the mayoral candidates and D.C. delegate candidates Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Harry M. Singleton (R) starting at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Dixon has promised to keep Fulwood in her cabinet if she wins next Tuesday's mayoral election and yesterday praised Turner's successor for instituting more neighborhood-based foot patrols.

Turner, who yesterday taped the one television commercial he hopes to air before Election Day, quarrelled with Dixon over the issue of their personal wealth, which Turner has tried repeatedly to raise as an issue in the mayor's race.

Staff writer Steve Twomey contributed to this report.