much ado about pitifully little, but damaging to many nonetheless -- is back to dominate next Tuesday's elections for top local offices. While this non-scandal is grounds enough for dumping the city council member who brought the allegations in the first place -- Donald Casey -- it is not a sound reason for rejecting the mayor or any other of the city's dedicated incumbent leaders. It would be particularly unwise to forsake Mayor Charles E. Beatley in favor of a man who only last year resigned from the city council after pleading no contest to a conflict-of-interest charge: James P. Moran Jr.

Though Mayor Beatley clearly fumbled things when he failed to recognize the emptiness of the allegations quickly enough, he remains a widely respected public servant whose knowledge of the city and regional governments has benefited the residents. Mr. Moran, a stockbroker, so far has amassed $40,000 for this campaign (Mayor Beatley's total is about $9,000) and has tried to steer away from his conflict-of-interest difficulties by talking about change in Alexandria and subjecting the mayor -- his former patron -- to cheap, personal abuse.

In weighing issues, thoughtful voters will consider many issues that Mayor Beatley and the council have treated with good sense: the management of zoning and development under the impact of Metro, the new local bus system and the generally efficient level of public services.

It has been a bipartisan effort, which is why -- with the exception of Mr. Casey -- the incumbent council members deserve reelection. For this to happen, however, voters should make sure they mark their ballots for all of the other five incumbents -- Patricia S. Ticer, Lionel R. Hope, Carlyle C. Ring, Margaret B. Inman, and Robert L. Calhoun -- and vote for a new sixth candidate; the top six vote-getters win. Of the challengers, Lynwood G. Campbell Jr., who has been a member of the school board, has an edge in public service that should stand the city in good stead.