If Mayor Schaeffer were running around Baltimore seeking special discounts from downtown merchants for all residents over 60, it's a good bet that business leaders there would rally to the cause. But along comes Mayor Barry with just such a modest attempt to give older people a break, and half the business executives contacted here are ducking for cover, many of them muttering that the mayor's proposal is some sort of overt ploy to woo elderly voters in an election year.

Well, heck, yes--that's what incumbents do in the rest of the United States, and it's called politics. It also happens to be one of the best reasons for having elections, because that's when any savvy public officeholder will respond as never before to every possible constituent group worth courting. The smart constituent knows it. Want a pothole fixed? Call now. Want a stop sign at that intersection? Don't wait. Want more recreation programs at your neigborhood playground? Go for 'em.

Take a peek across the border into Maryland and guess who's jumping to attention when people demand action this year. Wasn't that Gov. Harry Hughes responding immediately to complaints about traffic jams on the Eastern Shore and proudly announcing completion of work four days earlier than scheduled? His personal appearances used to be limited to every new moon and seventh legislative day, whichever came sooner.

In the District, any politician who can count has figured out that older citizens are a significant political force, that they have a history of turning out to vote in large numbers. So with a relatively small outlay, you mail all residents over 60 embossed cards entitling them to discounts all around the city, along with letters thanking them "for your role in making this city a great place to live." And if certain merchants don't want to participate, certainly they are under no obligation to do so.

But so far, at least 700 business firms have agreed to participate in the "Golden Washingtonian Club" that is being established by the D.C. Office on Aging. If it wins them any good will, so be it.