TWO NAMES that figured prominently in the District's 1998 mayoral election will appear once again on this year's ballot: Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and at-large D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R). When the two competed four years ago, voters overwhelmingly chose Mr. Williams, the city's former chief financial officer, over Mrs. Schwartz, giving him victories in all eight city wards and each of the city's 140 precincts. A week from today, voters will decide which of the two should have the honor of leading the District for the next four years. Odds are Mr. Williams will prevail once more, as, after much reflection, we hope he will. But residents inclined to give Mrs. Schwartz their vote will find themselves on solid ground as well: She is a fine public servant, a tireless voice of common sense and compassion, and an elected leader who has always put the city's best interests first.

So why are we endorsing Mr. Williams? We continue to believe that the city is moving in the right direction under his leadership. The much-needed D.C. government turnaround so desperately hoped for in the '90s is underway. The strains that put the city at odds with Congress, the White House and surrounding jurisdictions during the Marion Barry years have been repaired. Fiscal gimmickry that once reached the status of an art form in city government is nearly a thing of the past, as is the kind of self-dealing that once plagued the D.C. government. There has been measurable progress in the delivery of core municipal services. The quality of the workforce is improving, more affordable homes are being built, a primary care health plan for the uninsured is in place, and the mayor and the council work more cooperatively.

Still, we no longer see Mr. Williams as the skilled, no-nonsense, hands-on manager that we once thought he was. The charge of aloofness that trailed him through his near-disastrous primary campaign, and that sticks to him today, is not a trivial matter. Mr. Williams at times has shown worrisome signs of being distracted from duties and responsibilities that belong to his office. For example, he had to play catch-up to the council's bold initiatives to resolve the projected $323 million revenue shortfall. And the school system, which he once said was a top priority, now seems far from the top of his agenda. The mayor's saving grace is that once fully engaged, he can be quite effective. Given the looming fiscal problems, the District more than ever will require a chief executive for whom the job is number one, 24-7. Mr. Williams, to be successful in his second term, must be up to that challenge.

Without question, Mrs. Schwartz brings that kind of energy and commitment to public office. That helps explain our endorsement of her in 1994, when she ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Barry. We felt at the time that she was the most-qualified candidate to put the city on the road to fiscal and social recovery. She has been a candidate in nine campaigns and -- in contrast to Mr. Williams -- has never been fined by the Board of Elections and Ethics.

Carol Schwartz's eleventh-hour entry has enlivened a contest that all but belonged to Tony Williams. His advantages in money and party registration make him a strong favorite next Tuesday. But he benefits not only from his Democratic label and campaign chest. Tony Williams also has a successful record on which to run. That alone should be enough to earn him four more years.