Jesse L. Jackson has traveled widely speaking out against the U.S.-led war with Iraq, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton have officially supported the effort despite reservations, while D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson has remained diplomatically mum.

In a majority black city that, according to a recent Washington Post poll, believes the U.S. government should be just as dedicated to winning equal rights for black South Africans as it is to freeing Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm has triggered a wide range of reaction from D.C.'s new leadership.

Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.), a member of the House District Appropriations subcommittee and a supporter of D.C. statehood, suggested that the District's leaders are biting their tongues needlessly.

"When it comes time to sending men and women to war, ordering them to face the fire of an enemy, I don't think it's a time for their representatives to tiptoe around issues that might be delicate to the powers that be . . . ."

"I think it is entirely appropriate for city leaders to call attention to the anomaly {lack of self-determination} that the citizens of this district live under," he said.

Ever since his controversial interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in August, Jackson has traveled the country debating American involvement in the Middle East conflict with a dramatic flair. The majority of D.C. residents are against the war, and Jackson, who holds an unsalaried and vaguely defined office of statehood lobbyist in the Senate, has seized on that sentiment to grab the limelight.

Jackson was the only one of the city's top leaders to speak at a large anti-war demonstration across from the White House a week ago. On the night of his election as shadow senator, he announced plans to hold a statehood rally Jan. 19 and invited other politicans to take part. Dixon quickly backed out, however, when she learned Jackson's rally had glommed onto the anti-war rally that was sponsored by a wide range of organizations that included hard-line radical groups.

Norton said she showed up at the rally, which attracted 25,000 people, but was unable to find anyone rallying for statehood. She said she declined to participate in the peace demonstration because she was unfamiliar with its organizers.

Norton (D-D.C.) and Dixon both have chosen more moderate courses that reflect their temperaments and that suit their official duties and political objectives. They have had to decide whether this was an appropriate time to escalate the District's campaign for a vote in Congress and a more equitable federal payment, or to back down in deference to the crisis the nation faces.

Norton, a former law professor, serves as the city's point person in Congress, the arm of government empowered to declare war. On the floor of the House and across the airwaves, she has argued that it is unfair for the District, which has sent more soldiers to the Persian Gulf per capita than all but three states, to be without a vote in the House or Senate.

Norton, who has a long history of activism in the civil rights movement, also has joined Jackson in railing against the inequity of the country's volunteer armed forces, which she refers to as an "economic draft."

"I'm not claiming this is an army only of the poor," she said. "It is also an army of those who have two parents but won't get to college without the G.I. Bill, or who come from cities where there are no jobs. It is not an army of people who have other alternatives."

However, she was also careful to strike patriotic chords that matched the tone of the Democratic Party's leadership. On the first day of the war, she took to the floor of the House to say: "We gather our wagons around our president in respect and support of him, his office and the awesome responsibility that we have placed on him by majority vote."

Dixon's conservative corporate background has led her to identify with President Bush's "executive prerogative," an adviser said, despite the fact that she would not have chosen such a course. Also, because she is counting on Congress to help her meet the city's $300 million deficit, she is anxious to avoid offending leadership on the Hill or in the White House.

Little more than an hour after the United States launched its first attack on Iraq, Dixon called a news conference to rally the city around the flag, and she has said little more publicly on the subject since.

Wilson, who also is mindful of the need for congressional good will, has taken a pragmatic stance that belies a youthful history as a peacenik. He founded an anti-war, anti-draft organization in the 1960s, and said he remains deeply opposed to war under any circumstances.

Yet Wilson has not spoken out against the president's conduct -- or Congress' approval -- of Operation Desert Storm. He said that local concerns are foremost in his mind.

"I see no reason to be in conflict with Congress at this point on any issue, simply because we are going to need a great deal of support from Congress to maintain any reasonable quality of life for low-income and poor people in this city . . . . These things are worrying me more than the things that worried me 20 years ago."

He was 19 when he founded the National Black Anti-war Anti-Draft Union in the Atlanta office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. "I believe that peace is essential," he said this week. "I didn't believe in what we were doing in Vietnam. I didn't think it made any sense."

A Post poll conducted last Sunday showed that 54 percent of District residents disapprove of the war, compared with 23 percent in a nationwide survey conducted by the Post and ABC News.

Sixty percent of black D.C. residents said they disapprove of the war, while 37 percent said they approve. Thirty-seven percent of whites locally disapprove of the war, while 61 percent support it.

Norton and Jackson have hammered away at the country's volunteer armed forces, which Norton said are largely composed of men and women who have no other means of advancing in society than to "put their life in peril."

Jackson also has criticized the racial imbalance of the volunteer forces.

In several speeches related to the Martin Luther King holiday, Dixon has stressed her black heritage and a sense of outrage that blacks volunteered in disproportionate numbers to serve among the troops that are overseas, and yet, according to a recent poll, an overwhelming majority of white Americans believe blacks are less patriotic than they.

During the last two weeks, Dixon has had closed-door sessions with a score of lawmakers who will decide the question of aid to the city. She said she has asked them privately why, if the country can spend an estimated $19 million an hour in the Persian Gulf, it can't pay its fair share as a "resident" of the District.

But publicly, Dixon has been the model of a team player when it comes to backing the war effort.