DURING the months before the last mayoral election in this city there was a flurry of road repair work the like of which has not been seen since the reign of Caesar Augustus. Potholes were filled, curbs replaced, streets were swept. "Politics," sniffed the cynical. "He's doing all these nice things just because an election's coming up." We saw no harm and in fact lots of precedent for this kind of connection. If it takes an imminent election to inspire the city government, fine. We'll go to the polls every three months to keep the pressure on.

We feel the same way about the recent spurt of activity over at the civil rights division in the Justice Department. For two-and-a-half years no one in this administration, least of all the man in charge of enforcing the civil rights laws, William Bradford Reynolds, appeared to care a great deal about the very real problems that continue to burden minorities in this country. We heard a lot about what was wrong with busing and affirmative action, there was an unconscionable hesitancy to endorse the extention of the Voting Rights Act and little interest in initiating lawsuits, let alone expanding rights such as the one guaranteeing fair housing. 4 Suddenly there has been a pronounced and very public change. In the space of a few weeks Mr. Reynolds has visited Mississippi with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and returned convinced that there still is widespread voter discrimination in that state. He has vowed to act. Then the president announced that he will send to Congress a new fair housing bill that will put the government squarely into the business of fighting individual cases of discrimination. Just this week, the Justice Department filed suit against the state of Alabama, alleging the continuation of a racially separate state university system. Granted that the government had been ordered by a federal district court here in Washington to cut off Alabama's funds or to secure compliance with the law, the Justice Department's action this week signals a tougher position on last-ditch segregation. It is the first such suit filed by the Reagan administration, and it is an important step.

Have all these actions been undertaken with an eye to neutralizing black hostility in the 1984 election? Maybe, but like the filled potholes and the resurfaced roads, they're welcome.