After seeing numerous excerpts of the infamous Vista Hotel videotape, it seems that although the stage may have been set by the government, Mayor Marion Barry appeared perfectly able to make a rational decision about whether to smoke crack cocaine. Unfortunately for Mr. Barry and for the citizens of the District, he made the wrong decision.

An outcry about the actions of the government and the use of sting operations has followed the release of the tape, but what should really outrage people is the conduct of the mayor.

The U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI set up a sting to determine whether the highest elected official within the D.C. government was violating the law, regardless of whether that official was black or white. Faced with many allegations about the mayor's drug use, the prosecutors would have failed in their obligation to the public had they not taken such action. To call an invitation to a hotel room the basis for a defense of entrapment seems ludicrous. No one forced Mr. Barry to use drugs, and when afforded the opportunity he did so of his own volition. It seemed clear that it was not a new experience for him.

It is time that we demand more from our leaders and not excuse illegal conduct because of past good deeds. The conduct of the government was appropriate in light of the years of arrogance and the disdain the mayor has exhibited for the laws he swore to abide by and help enforce. RICHARD TURANO Washington

I was disturbed by the videotape of Mayor Marion Barry and Rasheeda Moore. I had expected to feel only disgust at the image of the mayor of Washington using drugs. The images that I saw, however, provoked more complex feelings.

What I saw was a vulnerable man lured to a hotel room over his objections. He was tempted by thinly veiled hints of a sexual encounter with a beautiful younger woman. Once in the room, he single-mindedly sought such an encounter. Somehow, the subject of drugs came up, and Miss Moore produced some crack cocaine, which the mayor later used. I wonder how many people have used cocaine only to please a potential partner? Could this have been an isolated event for the mayor? It's possible.

I also saw the FBI's elaborate efforts to catch the mayor smoking crack. The hotel room, numerous agents, several cameras -- I can only guess at the cost. But I don't have to guess about who paid that cost -- we did, the taxpayers. So I have to ask what the benefit was to me? Could my tax dollars have been used more effectively elsewhere? Probably so.

I was also shocked by the medical risks. The EMTs who checked the mayor's vital signs were clearly uneasy about his blood pressure. We are often told that cocaine kills, even in small doses. Considering the mayor's age and his lifestyle, this FBI operation could have taken a morbid turn.

The mayor's position should not protect him from prosecution, but neither should it make him such an irresistible target that no cost is too great to bring him down.

Yes, the mayor was wrong, and the sting was successful. But I don't think the end justified the means. CHARLES C. LEMLEY Leesburg