Members of the D.C. City Council, basking in the comfort of long limousines, warm praise and parties toasting their successes, breezed through inaugural ceremonies and their first official session under new Chairman David A. Clarke yesterday, but with clear hints of many tough days ahead.

Surveying the bumper-to-bumper limousines--including the one she had just left curbside at the new Washington Convention Center--council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) commented that "In these hard times, we should have come over on the bus."

Freshman council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), taking the oath of office inside, questioned whether it was a good time to become a council member "when the mayor has told me we face a possible $100 million deficit."

Smith earlier in the day had stood briefly in the cold with demonstrators for the homeless as the inaugural parade passed the District Building. He said it is time "to stop talking about doing something about boarded-up housing" and do something for the homeless.

"Today we celebrate," said Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large). "Tomorrow there is work to do."

Clarke, drawing on his civil rights experiences, said the city's problems with declining revenues and increased social demands would strain the city's fabric. "Today we face a new kind of struggle . . . . There is no enemy . . . no hoses of Birmingham and no clubs of Selma."

Despite the budget problems and cutbacks by the federal government, Clarke declared at the inaugural prayer breakfast that "We can become what America was meant to be."

The council members, often at odds with one another and uncertain of their ability to work together under Clarke, face a number of issues that will soon test Clarke's efforts to quiet the bickering that has hampered the council much of the last four years.

In addition to such issues as renewal of the city's law limiting conversion of apartments into condominiums and adoption of the city's politically sensitive comprehensive plan, the council also must oversee the city's efforts to bring cable television to Washington and implementation of the controversial no-fault auto insurance legislation it passed last year.

Clarke and the six other council members who were sworn in to new terms were each given seven minutes to speak before Mayor Marion Barry's inaugural address. In addition to Clarke, Smith and Kane, council members taking the oath yesterday were Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6).

After the inaugural, the council held a 50-minute organizing session, which included the first roll-call vote and challenge to Clarke's leadership plans.

Less than five minutes into the session, which began at 3:55 p.m., council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark objected to a move by Clarke to to make the council's legislative counsel subordinate to its general counsel. Rolark demanded a roll-call vote, but lost 10 to 3, gaining only the votes of John Ray (D-At Large) and Jarvis.

The council confirmed Gregory E. Mize, a longtime aide and friend of Clarke's, as its new general counsel. Bruce French, legislative counsel under defeated chairman Arrington Dixon and considered one of the most knowledgeable council staff members, has agreed to continue working at least temporarily for Clarke.

Jarvis was the only member to object to what was expected to be a routine resolution confirming Clarke's choices of committee chairmen and assignments. Jarvis said she had wanted to be a member of the newly established commmittee on cable television.

Vivien Cunningham, council secretary under Dixon, also was kept on by Clarke for 30 days until her post can be filled next month by Clarke's choice, Russell A. Smith. Smith, currently an assistant city manager of Berkeley, Calif., formerly worked for the D.C. auditor.

As Clarke took the gavel for the first time, he praised Dixon, whom Clarke defeated in the September Democratic primary, and Jack Nevius and John W. Hechinger, both of whom served as appointed council chairman before home rule in 1974.

Former chairman Sterling Tucker did not attend the council session. Tucker also lost to Clarke in his bid to regain his old job this year.

A throng of several hundred persons joined the council members on the first floor of the District Building after the session, sipping wine and punch and munching on cookies, cakes and cheese.