The city was in desperate straits. Its treasury was nearly drained. Its debts were coming due. Its property was being attached by creditors, and things threatened to get worse.

By midnight Friday, for allintents and purposes, Cleveland had gone under when it couldn't pay $15.5 million in debts that came due at that hour.

It was one of those times, as the saying goes, when all goof men are supposed to come to the aid. Here in Cleveland, they never showed.

For the past few stormy years, they have been burning bridges between each other, and when the crisiscame, the divisions were hardened: The business community against the mayor, and Dennis J. Kucinich, a street kid who rose to office by attacking all of them, was completely isolated.

By this time next week, if the mayor follows throught on what he has said, 3,500 people-including half the police force, half the fire department and half the smow-removal crews-could be notified they will be laid off. Regular trash collectionscould be limited to once every two or three weeks. Only the most critical road repairs would be made.

Dozens of smaller creditors-who sell pens, paper clips and typewriter ribbons to the city - are expected to begin lining up at city hall to try to collect their debts.

By February, should there be no relief, financial experts say this city will face bankruptcy because even more bonds will be due.

City officials met today amid hope that the default could be limited to a few hours or days, but bylate afternoon no progress was reported.

"It was the politics of insanity," said Mayor Kucinich, "A moment of shame." In Cleveland, said council-woman Mary Catherine McCafferty, "We don't have a financial problem. We have a political problem.

In fact, this city has both. Though theeconomy of Cleveland is no worse off than in many other industrial cities and is better than many, the city government is near bankruptcy. Itsincome tax rate, 1 percent, is too low, the experts say, and its property tax base has dwindled dramatically as thousands of people have left for the suburbs.

Kucinich inherited financial books so mismanaged they were declared by outside examiners to be incapable of being audited. More than$40 million meant to repay loans had been used for operating costs in departments with chronic deficits.

Politically, espousing what seemed tobe a genuine brand of urban populism, the mayor built a wall around himself as the problems worsened.

When business men offered to lend management experts to the city, Kucinich rejected them. "We offered and offered and offered but he told us he didn't need help," said Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns and a leader of the business community here.

When bankers and others sought a tax abatement program similar to those used by many other cities to attract new business, Kucinich rejected theidea as a "rip-off" of the people.

In return, most banks owed money bythe city's largest creditor, the Cleveland Trust Co., which, ironically, runs an ad here that says, "If you want to borrow$15 million, ask us." Kucinich's relationship with the City Council was bad from the start. As a councilman before becoming mayor, he broke all the rules by objecting to zoning deals in other districts and by fieldings allied candidates in other council members' districts.

He was elected mayor on a "power to the people" campaign that used the business community and the incumbent council as its primary targets. As mayor, he vetoed three or four times as many bills as his predecessors and rarely consulted council members on policy matters.

On Wednesday, as he sought council agreement with a proposed 50 percent tax increase referendum that might have staved off default, he did for the first time something that most big-city mayors do every day: he began huddling individually with council members to seek support.

Kucinich acknowledged that for him such consultation was "unprecedented."

But then, instead of adopting a conciliatory tone, he began pushing dissenting councilmen to the wall, embarrassing them on television by accusing them of trying to swing "the most crooked deal in the annals of big-city politics" and of participating in "the murder of this city."

Cleveland, like other big cities, is a rough-and-tumble town when it comes to politics. Amid the crisis, council president George Forbes, Kucinich's archenemy, helped sink the mayor's antidefault proposals in part by coolly and quietly manipulating council rules, masking his efforts in obscure liquor license measure.

The council then pushed the mayor to the wall. The price members demanded for an agreement was the only one they knew Kucinich could not pay: the sale of the city's municipally owned but deeply in debt power plant, Muny Light.

Kucinich won election 13 months ago with a promise that he would never sell the light plant, which he considers a symbol of the people's struggle against monopoly power, and he couldn't back down this week.

"Not everyone in this city has a price," the mayor said as the clock struck midnight Friday. "If Cleveland is to go into default, at least we will not have sold our souls."

"Not everyone in this city has a price," the mayor said as the clock struck midnight Friday. "If Cleveland is to go into default, at least we will not have sold our souls."

Inscribed on the wall of the cavernous council chamber where the mayors spoke was an exhortation for all Clevelanders to "live and work in harmony so that they may transmit to posterity a city with an enlightened vision and a civic soul."

Relations with the affluent suburbs were no beter. When Kucinich made his tax increase proposals, he publicly, singled out submarbanites who work in the city as those who should bear the heaviest burden.

So whenthey met to determine if they could help Cleveland, only nine of Cuyahoga County's 61 suburban mayors showed up.

"The time is here for the suburbs and industry to stop sitting as complacment observers while the mother city dies," one suburban official told his colleagues as he sought help for Cleveland.

"We don't have any money to shell out," responded Jame H. Cowles, one of the suburban mayors. "And he [Kucinich] may not even want our advice."

In Cleveland, "we don't have a financial problem. We have a financial problem. We have a political problem."

-Councilwoman Mary C. McCafferty