FOR THE PARTICULAR job of chairman of the D.C. Council, we think Sterling Tucker is the best suited of the three candidates. This is for us a close choice, because a strong case can be made for the election of each contender, based on his experience in office, knowledge of the local nature of Washington and seriousness of purpose. In their bids for votes, David Clarke, Arrington Dixon and Mr. Tucker all have contributed thoughtfully to discussions of what a council chairman and the council itself could, should or might do. Their thoughts do differ, as have their styles in public office -- and it is in these distinctions that the margin of preference is found.

The D.C. Council is both a city and a state legislative body, with demands on its leader unlike those on the chief executive. Policy-making can begin in either branch, of course, but a council chairman's qualifications and performance may be examined more for his talents as a facilitator of consensus than for his stands on a string of issues.

Mr. Clarke's profile is heavily issue-oriented. He has stood out noticeably, for example, in favor of rent controls -- with few concessions to those who argue, as we have, that rent control is unrealistic and damaging. Mr. Clarke can cite examples of compromise -- no-fault insurance among them -- and an ability to bring together constituents from diverse backgrounds in his ward. The question remains whether Mr. Clarke's intense interests might limit hgn; the fiis effectiveness in reaching the accommodations necessary for a legislative body to function well.

On the issues, Mr. Dixon has stood courageously on controversial questions, from his support of no-fault to his campaign against tuition tax credits -- positions with which we have agreed. But there is concern that the council under his stewardship has disintegrated into 13 individuals lacking the cohesion and sense of direction it had under his predecessor, Mr. Tucker. Some of this is the result of a natural maturation of the council from a new home-rule creation, but not all.

This may contribute to a certain nostalgia for days that will not and should not return to the council. Nevertheless, the strongest talent of Mr. Tucker was then -- and still is -- a sensitivity to the strategic flow of events, the ability to mediate, to allow differences of opinion, to organize, to heal. Some aspects of Mr. Tucker's campaign are weak, in our view: his vague defense of outlandishly high benefits in the city's workmen's compensation law and heavy financial backing from those who would alter or gut the no-fault insurance bill just enacted.

But only recently Mr. Tucker has reminded the city of his ability to take on difficult, important tasks -- his stewardship of the excellent Operation Rescue volunteer tutorial program in the schools and his role as Mayor Barry's mediator in a tense war over the YMCA's role in this city. This talent, coupled with his long record of contributions to the city, stood him in excellent stead as chairman before -- and, we think, tips the balance in the contest this time.

In the contested race for an at-large seat on the next council, there is a clear, important choice. Betty Ann Kane, who has served the school board, the council and the residents of every section of the city with exceptional diligence, deserves reelection. Her record is in stark contrast to the confrontational, divisive tactics that challenger Barbara Lett Simmons used in the school board's worst years. Nor can challenger Johnny Barnes match Mrs. Kane's understanding and experience.

A second critical contest is in Ward 6, where incumbent Nadine Winter deserves the support of all voters who recognize the distinctively divisive and irresponsible record of challenger John Warren as a member of the school board. Washington has no place for reckless racial innuendo and neither should the council have a place for Mr. Warren.

In Ward 1, Frank Smith, who has served his ward and the city responsibly, is the strongest candidate. While Marie S. Nahikian can cite experience as a community worker and leadership of tenant groups, Mr. Smith's record on the school board makes the difference.

Voters in Ward 3 have been treated to a lively contest between veteran incumbent Polly Shackleton and challengers Ruth Dixon and Mark Plotkin. On the basis of experience on the local scene, the choice narrows to Mrs. Dixon, whose service as president of the D.C. League of Women Voters was impressive, and Mrs. Shackleton, whose ability to command the respect of, and to work with, other members of the council has been important to Ward 3's participation in the broader affairs of the city. Mrs. Shackleton has earned another term.

In Ward 5, the options are limited. Incumbent William Spaulding's strongest challenge comes from Douglas Moore. When he was on the council before, Mr. Moore contributed little to the detailed legislative business of the city. While residents of this politically active ward deserve better representation, Mr. Spaulding is marginally a better choice.