AN ELEMENTARY rule of politics is that you set your priorities and then, naturally, focus your energies on those items you consider most important. Elementary, right? Well, incredible as it seems, the City Council last week was about to jeopardize, if not doom completely, the District's longtime, arduous and extremely important effort to secure full voting representation in Congress - all for the sake of an empty political gesture.

The council was set to approve a measure that would both require a boycott of products from North Carolina because of the Wilmington 10 case and prohibit city employees from using public funds for travel on official business to states that haven't ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. It took a last-ditch effort by the League of Women Voters, among others, to convince the council of the growing resentment toward the District the boycott measure was creating in the Senate, which is considering the proposal for full voting representation. (The boycotts would affect the states of 16 of the 40 senators who are considered undecided on the issue.) Councilman Douglas Moore (D.-at large) had it just right when he describe the bill as an example of "political idiocy." Fortunately, the council, heeding the advice of the District's lobbyists, sent the bill back to a committee. Despite the public statements of some councilmembers, that may be the council's way of dropping the issue while saving face publicly. We hope so.

However, both the mayor and the District's school board in separate actions officially have supported boycotting non-ERA states. Last winter the mayor issued an executive order, and the school board a resolution, prohibiting employees under their control from using public funds for travel to non-ERA states. Those prohibitions, along with a similar council resolution due to expire soon, almost prevented a contingent of city high school athletes from participating last week in a national track meet in Atlanta (Georgia's state legislature hasn't ratified the ERA). All of these are foolish measures that invite reprisals of one sort another - as witness the resentment of senators whose votes may be critical on a matter of the highest importance to the very citizens whose interests the City Council is supposed to protect. It is not the business of local or state governments to try to impose their political views on their counterparts elsewhere by waging economic warfare with public funds. This isn't just a matter of practical politics. It is matter of principle having to do with respect for local sovereignty, which, when you think about it, is also what the Equal Representation Amendment is all about.