In November 1980, District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attended an elegant dinner with president-elect Ronald Reagan and left convinced that the new Republican administration would be receptive to the city's concerns.

Six months later, the Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church, left the Reagan White House with an entirely different view.

He had asked that surplus food from official dinners be donated to the city's poor and hungry, but the idea was vetoed by a White House aide later quoted as calling the proposal "disgusting."

"There's a frozen spirit that has set in -- a hardness," Steinbruck said.

Since the Reagans first moved in four years ago, the White House has proved to be something of a paradox to city officials and residents, who, despite home rule, remain vulnerable to the whims and style of the occupant of that mansion.

Unlike President Jimmy Carter, who sparked hope for improved federal-District relations with his Inauguration Day stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue and his decision to send his daughter, Amy, to a public school, Reagan generated initial fear and loathing.

Reagan took office strongly opposed to full congressional voting rights for the District and to relinquishing federal prosecutorial powers to the city. He also pledged to dismantle or reduce scores of federal social programs, sending a shudder through a city with a large concentration of poor blacks and high unemployment. At first, Barry graded Reagan's performance as "D plus."

Today, though, the mayor is a convert to Reagan's presidential style. Philosophical differences aside, Barry said, "We've been more successful in the Reagan administration than I was in the Carter administration in getting things for the city."

Like other major cities, the District suffered as a result of sharp cutbacks in federal programs and aid. Yet Reagan proposed the single largest boost in the federal payment to the District, and he recently committed millions of dollars to fix up a shelter for the homeless here.

Although Reagan is not a fan of expanded home rule, the administration bowed to the city last year in a congressional dispute over rewriting the home-rule charter to make it more difficult for Congress and the White House to overturn D.C. legislation.

Amid the Republican era of limited expectations, the District received millions of dollars in special federal funds for its criminal-justice system and summer-jobs program and to create seven new D.C. Superior Court judgeships.

The federal government clearly was interested in reducing crime here. But this time the offer was made in a more positive spirit than when President Richard M. Nixon provided millions of dollars in local crime-prevention programs after declaring that the District was the nation's "crime capital."

Reagan even has managed to offset the White House's new, forbidding image, fostered by concrete barriers and other security measures, with occasional forays into the metropolitan area to meet residents.

The former movie actor, dressed in jeans and cowboy hat, attended a rodeo at the Capital Centre in 1983, and the Reagans have shown considerable interest in the D.C. school system. The White House has "adopted" Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and the president last year addressed students at Jefferson Junior High School.

Late last year, the Reagans made a surprise visit to far Southeast Washington to dine on fried chicken and wild rice at the home of a 7-year-old boy with whom the president had exchanged letters.

"I particularly like the man," said City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), a former civil rights activist who counts Reagan among the constituents of his ward. "I like their style in the White House . The way they do business . . . . I don't think they interfere very much with what goes on in the city."

"It seems to me the city does better under Republican administrations than Democratic administrations," Wilson said. "What some people forget is that home rule came in under a Republican administration. Richard Nixon signed the bill."

Reagan's arrival four years ago was a major topic of conversation at the all-black First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church in the heart of the inner-city Shaw neighborhood, one of the city's most poverty-stricken areas.

At the time, many members of the congregation expressed a hope that the new administration could do something about widespread joblessness and soaring inflation, while others expressed fear.

The Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, pastor of the church, today credits Reagan's administration with greatly improving the national economy but worries that the benefits still have not trickled down to many impoverished District residents.

"The thing that impresses me most is the delayed manner in which the economic improvement of the nation begins to affect the poorest at the lower end of the ladder," said Gibson, executive director of the Greater Washington Council of Churches. "No doubt the [economic] theory is sound, but some of us had hoped it would work faster."

Washington's blue-chip business establishment is equally tepid in assessing the impact on the District of Reagan's first four years. The city has undergone a major office building boom, Pennsylvania Avenue has been spruced up between the White House and Capitol Hill and the downtown area has begun to come alive at night, but Reagan is given little, if any, credit for any of that.

"If you ask has he done anything aggressively for the city, no, the city has not been a high priority with him," said Julia M. Walsh, an investment broker and new president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

"I think [Reagan administration officials] have been cooperative but just more passive," she added. "They have not thrown up any roadblocks."

The home-rule question resurfaced in 1983 when the Supreme Court invalidated the legislative veto, a key device in the District's home-rule charter that enabled Congress to review city laws. The ruling clouded the city's self-government authority, granted by Congress a decade earlier.

Congress grappled with the problem but, in the final stages of the legislative process to correct it, the White House stunned and angered city officials by raising objections.

The White House further upset the city by suggesting that the federal government should reassert more authority over enactment of changes in the D.C. criminal code.

The administration's argument that the federal government is responsible for ensuring public safety in the nation's capital smacked of the bad old days when congressmen and presidents feared that, left to its own devices, the predominantly black and Democratic District would be "soft on crime."

In the end, a mixture of political reality (Hill Republicans were not supportive of the White House view) and personal lobbying (including a private meeting between Barry and presidential counselor Edwin Meese III) softened the White House.

When city officials partied at the District Building to celebrate the victory, Meese joined them.

"He [Meese] was a great guy on this thing," Barry said. "I never saw anything happen so fast."

The Reagan administration also came through on some money issues. The federal payment to the District, made in lieu of tax payments on tax-exempt federal properties in the city, was increased by more than 10 percent annually under Reagan -- from $300 million in fiscal 1981 to $425 million this year.

The remainder of federal grants to the city decreased from $354.5 million in fiscal 1981 to $348 million in fiscal 1984, according to D.C. Budget Director Betsy Reveal.

Figuring without the federal payment and adjusting for inflation, the city saw a drop in grants of 19.2 percent in real terms during that period, Reveal said. Medicaid payments have jumped considerably but because of a higher caseload rather than increased payments for each person, she said.

Pauline Schneider, who worked in the Carter White House as a liaison to the District and now is the mayor's director of intergovernmental relations, said one significant difference between the Carter and Reagan administrations is in attitude.

"My perception is that, with the Carter administration, there was at least a sense and commitment to the goals of self-determination," and they consulted regularly with the city, Schneider said. "We don't see that now in this White House," which tries to exercise more influence over policy decisions, she said.

Many District residents were directly affected by federal budget cuts and tighter eligibility limits for federal welfare, disability and unemployment programs. In some cases, the city tried to make up the difference.

Wesley Garrett, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B, said that many residents in his area are retired and on disability and that federal cutbacks have had "a significant effect" on them.

"I think it is almost unanimous that things are worse" under Reagan, Garrett said.

Lady Bird Johnson made her mark as first lady by beautifying the city with trees and shrubs. Rosalynn Carter attracted notice for sitting in on Cabinet meetings. Nancy Reagan has spent a lot of time working against drug abuse.

Drug-abuse experts have commended Mrs. Reagan for taking an interest, but some note that her best efforts have done virtually nothing to stem widespread sale and use of heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

"The talk outweighs the action and the funding," said Fred Wegner, who has been active on citizens' advisory panels dealing with drug addiction and alcoholism. "Without deprecating what she is doing . . . , she has had no impact around here. It's worse, if anything."

The White House was slow to identify the growing problems of the homeless until a highly publicized hunger strike by local activist Mitch Snyder forced federal government agreement to contribute $5 million to fix up a federal building on Capitol Hill as a shelter.

The White House announced its decision two days before the Nov. 6 general election and only hours before the CBS program "60 Minutes" was to broadcast a report about Snyder's efforts. Snyder praised the administration for helping, but not everyone was impressed.

"I don't think it reflects anything other than a useful political opportunity for [the administration]," said Steinbruck, whose church provides shelter for the homeless a few blocks north of the White House.

Steinbruck, who heads the mayor's commission on homelessness, said he was upset that Reagan responded to Snyder's extreme tactics but was seemingly oblivious to needs expressed less obtrusively by other shelter providers.

Later, Steinbruck relayed further news, a bit sheepishly in light of his harsh remarks. He said a group of Cabinet wives had decided to help with a $100,000 renovation of the Bethany day center for homeless women that Steinbruck's wife, Erna, runs at 14th and N streets NW.

"I have mixed emotions," he said. "It's good for us, but for others . . . ."