The D.C. Council's new restrictions on Mayor Marion Barry's ability to approve leases and contracts is a prelude to council efforts to capture turf from Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon, according to some council members and political observers.

By imposing strict restrictions on the lame duck mayor, the council also triggered a drive to adopt permanent restrictions on the incoming mayor.

"The council is flexing its muscles," said council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7). "In the past, we've had some serious problems {with Barry}, so we are trying to prevent these problems from occurring again."

After years of virtually rubber-stamping many of the mayor's proposals, the council in recent years has proved to be far more assertive and independent, particularly on budget and tax issues. Amid suspicion that Barry might be trying to arrange lucrative deals for friends and loyalists before leaving office Jan. 2, the council voted Tuesday to override the mayor's veto of emergency legislation preventing him from approving contracts and leases worth more than $1 million without council approval.

Dixon strongly urged the council to override the veto and impose the restrictions until she takes office in January. But now council members say they are prepared to vote to make the restrictions permanent legislation -- a move that Dixon says would be an unwarranted hindrance on her efforts to reform the government.

"I need as much latitude as possible," she said.

The council is scheduled to vote on a permanent version of the bill when it meets Tuesday. Dixon is expected to strongly oppose the action, although a press aide said that she "has not firmed up her {lobbying} plans for next week."

A member of Dixon's transition team, who asked not to be named, predicted that council members, led by Chairman-Elect John A. Wilson, "are going to try to establish as much power as they can while she learns the job." "I hear rumblings that they want to make sure that the new mayor doesn't run roughshod over them, and they want to send a signal," the source said.

Several council members said in interviews that they have nothing against Dixon, but that Barry had so thoroughly dominated -- some said abused -- city government for 12 years that they want to take steps to prevent that from happening again.

"It's not the council versus the mayor," said council member William Lightfoot (I-At large). "It's the council having a role in prioritizing at a time when our money is low."

The temporary measure prohibits the mayor from signing contracts for goods, services and real property worth more than $1 million without submitting it for council review. The permanent bill, however, covers only property leasing and purchases.

Lightfoot and some other council members are expected to propose extending that oversight authority to include goods and services as well. Dixon disagrees, saying that the legislation was only necessary to guard against last-minute deal making by Barry.

Howard University political science professor Alvin Thornton said that while enlisting the council's support in controlling Barry, Dixon must take care not to give the council carte blanche to make a "raid on the mayor's office."

Thornton said the council actions portend an attempted "institutional reconfiguration," led by Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. Wilson has pledged to assert more control over city affairs and level the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, which he said has been woefully lopsided.

Responding to Dixon's insistence Wednesday that Barry and the council devise a plan to close a possible $200 million budget deficit "by whatever means possible," Wilson said he will not move forward on budget cuts or a tax increase without Dixon's involvement.

"Mr. Wilson is jockeying with Ms. Dixon over who is going to be the chief of this thing," Thornton said.

In another move that may signal the legislators' resolve to rein in the mayor's power, council members next week will also consider a proposal limiting the mayor and council chairman to two terms in office.

Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), who introduced the proposal, said he intends to sponsor an amendment deleting the term restriction for the council chairman.

"The nature of power that a mayor has and that of the council is different," Smith said in explaining his proposed amendment. "Mayors can basically have a meeting in the mirror and make decisions by themselves. Council members are subjected to a lot more debate and scrutiny in decision-making . . . . Basically, my theory is that you elect a good mayor and then get him out of there before he goes bad."

Council members say they only want to keep the next mayor in check, not shackle her authority. Some say they demonstrated that Tuesday by approving a measure that will give Dixon more freedom to build her own team.

By a 9 to 4 vote, the council approved a proposal that freezes Barry's authority to make any more appointments to city boards and commissions.

There are about 70 nominations pending before the council, including some of the most influential policy-making positions in the District.

Among positions vacant or up for reappointment are the D.C. Taxicab Commission, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, which issues liquor licenses, the city's Real Estate Commission, the D.C. Convention Center board and the D.C. Board of Elections.