It's a new year, the District has a new mayor, and, judging from events yesterday in federal court, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon is getting a New Deal.

One week into her administration, the mayor missed getting hit with her very first injunction yesterday when U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin told attorneys for poor people having trouble getting food stamps to sit down and negotiate with the city.

"Unless I get the wrong message from the new mayor, I think she'll want to get this thing resolved," Sporkin said. "I don't think she's going to want to fight the needy people of this community.

His advice met with conciliatory responses from both sides in the case -- a far cry from the testy relationship between public interest lawyers in the city and city attorneys that characterized the last years of the Barry administration.

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Neighborhood Legal Services filed suit against the city on Dec. 26.

The suit alleged that thousands of the city's poor or homeless people who are eligible for food stamps are getting a runaround from city bureaucrats who fail to deliver the food stamps as quickly as the law requires: within five days, in cases of hardship.

Assistant Corporation Counsel George Valentine told Sporkin yesterday that he doesn't think the city is systematically denying benefits to anyone, "but that's not to say there might not be isolated instances of worker error." The city is open to suggestions about revamping procedures, he said.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Jeffrey Maletta, said "there's enough goodwill between the parties" to settle the case. Apparently unwilling to get too starry-eyed, Sporkin set another hearing date for Monday -- just in case they don't.