LOOKING A LITTLE FORLORN as he stood in the hallway outside the city hall office he had occupied for 11 years, Walter Edward Washington was savoring a certain part of the inaugural that had just ended. "Did you hear that applause for me?" he asked proudly. "I think I earned that." He was not being bitter -- for that has never been his way. And he had earned it. Though a majority of the voters last fall had thought it time for a change -- as we did -- that need take nothing away from the contributions of Walter Washington to the city he has always loved.

The new mayor of the District of Columbia, Marion S. Barry Jr., was both gracious and correct in saying of the city's first mayor that "the hallmarks of his leadership have been decency, dignity and commitment." (More of Mayor Barry's address appears elsewhere on this page, For the Record.) For seven years after being chosen by President Johnson to be commissioner of the District, Mr. Washington led this community through a most trying transtitional period from total local bondage to modified self-government. And he did so skillfully -- walking the difficult line between the District's federal overseers and its citizens.Certainly he was the right man for theat time -- a man who inherited a cumbersome bureaucracy, a troubled and racially tense city, a nervous business establishment and an insensitive, domineering Congress.

Walter Washington produced a new spirit of understanding that proved instrumental in achieving the self-government that this city had sought for so long. He proved himself to all as a sensitive peacemaker, a skillful accommodator who could win his way into the hearts of a broad-based constituency. And he was fiercely loyal to those who worked around him a city hall -- a loyalty that was to betray him in later years when the need for new talent to exercise the powers of an elected government went largely ignored.

So now there has been a vote for something different and a new era has begun under Mayor Barry -- a change that Walter Washington has accepted with characteristic grace. "I love this city with a passion," he says, "I've given my blood, my sweat, most of my adult life to the city and I want it to prosper and survive." For that to continue, he said, the people must give Mayor Barry "the support he rightfully earned and deserved."

It was a graceful leavetaking. For guiding the nation's capital through these rough an crucial times to this latest transition, Walter Washington will always enjoy a special place in the hearts of those of us who remember and appreciate his dedication to this city.