MOSCOW, NOV. 11 -- When Boris Yeltsin was named head of Moscow's powerful Communist Party organization in December 1985, a Siberian warned a Muscovite: "We have sent you a real bulldozer."

As his political career came to a crashing close tonight, the tall, broad-shouldered politician from Sverdlovsk, renowned as one of the most uncompromising advocates of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, was perceived here as having inflicted damage on the causes he had so fiercely defended.

His downfall seems to have resulted from his habit of speaking his mind with little regard for the consequences. At the 27th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1986, Yeltsin, while giving a searing critique of the party's failings, stunned his audience by confessing his own failings during the era of political stagnation that characterized the 18-year rule of Leonid Brezhnev.

"The delegates can ask me why I didn't talk about this at the 26th congress of the party {five years earlier}. I can answer openly that back then, courage and political experience were lacking."

When Yeltsin rose to speak at the fateful plenary meeting of the Central Committee on Oct. 21, he showed no signs of lacking the courage of his convictions. According to reports circulating in the city, he attacked colleagues for blocking reforms and even criticized his patron Gorbachev's style of leadership. One report also had him questioning the role of Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, who makes frequent appearances at the leader's side.

Yeltsin's fervor was apparently unbridled. According to one account, Yeltsin, at a festive evening at the Bolshoi theater Nov. 5, told the audience that the process of reform was becoming mired. He said that if the problems continued, the country would end in a crisis.

These remarks were not printed the next day in the report on the gathering, held two days before the Nov. 7 anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Like other aspects of the Yeltsin affair, they were excised from the Soviet press, apparently deemed too risky for publication even in the current atmosphere of glasnost, or openness.

With his fervent speeches encouraging more open discussion in Soviet society, Yeltsin had become one of glasnost's main champions. In his demise, he became one of the reform movement's symbols, rallying some of the city's newly formed democratic independent clubs to his cause. Several clubs delivered a petition in support of Yeltsin to City Hall on Sunday, while one organized a gathering of signatures on a Moscow street.

For these groups and other Muscovites who picked up accounts of the affair from foreign reports or rumors, Yeltsin's fate began to look like a barometer of how far open discussion could go. Several groups were asking, if Yeltsin cannot say what he thinks, then who can?

But an even more telling test of glasnost was how the Soviet media reacted to the first major political crisis of the Gorbachev era: a news blackout, which seemed a throwback to pre-glasnost days.

When a Central Committee secretary on Oct. 30 told Soviet and foreign reporters that Yeltsin's offer to resign was being reviewed, the official news agency Tass ran a terse item along with a warning to Soviet editors not to use it. They did not.

When Soviet television aired a Nov. 3 press conference by a Politburo member who answered questions on the Yeltsin affair, those answers were cut from the program.

And yet it was Yeltsin who said, according to the first paragraph of a Tass account of his meeting with foreign diplomats on Oct. 6: "We do not subdivide information into that for home consumption and for foreign use. In accordance with glasnost and democratization we tell all the truth, and not half-truths, to readers at home and abroad."

These kinds of comments revealed a literal belief in glasnost and reform that is apparently not shared by other members of the leadership. On other occasions, Yeltsin seemed to emerge as the scourge of perestroika, or restructuring, the fierce puritan who was always quick to remind others of their failure to restructure themselves.

At a meeting of the Moscow city party committee in August, Yeltsin chastised those who thought democratization was going too far.

He acknowledged it was painful to read and listen to bitter truths surfacing in the press. But, he said, "all this helps maintain a high, exacting vitality, and if anyone takes offense, then it is a clear sign that he has a long way to go to reach perestroika."

Yeltsin then spoke prophetically about those who lose their effectiveness in this unforgiving period. "To confess to one's inability to accomplish real deeds, to get up from the director's chair of one's own free will -- the courage is lacking.

"There is only one criterion now, that is final results. That is how to assess someone's work," he said.

Yeltsin's management of the city apparently got mixed reviews from his peers at the Central Committee meeting, despite two years of relentless efforts.

Yeltsin was brought to Moscow by Gorbachev in July 1985 as a secretary of the Central Committee for construction. Before that, he had served nine years as first secretary of Sverdlovsk, an industrial region in the Urals, where he was educated at a polytechnical institute and worked as a construction engineer.

From the moment he took the Moscow job, replacing the long-time party boss and Brezhnev associate Viktor Grishin, Yeltsin displayed a novel style. He rode buses and visited shops on a scouting mission that revealed that the attractions of the Soviet Union's privileged capital city were not what they were advertised to be.

His early speeches both unnerved and delighted Muscovites. He unveiled facts about shoddy housing and health care, and he honed in on the laggards in the party organization. A wholesale personnel shake-up took place.

Yeltsin's major complaint at the Oct. 21 plenum was that his efforts to reform Moscow kept meeting with interference from central authorities. Previously he had complained that development of new cooperatives was lagging.

Yeltsin's frustrations apparently spilled over on Oct. 21 and after facing a counterattack from his colleagues on the Central Committee, he offered to resign.

Voluntary resignation was the path he had recommended on Aug. 8 at the city party committee to leaders who had "exhausted their opportunities."

"It would be the honest way out vis-a-vis coworkers, Muscovites. And it should not depend on what post you occupy today -- director or manager, section head or secretary of a party committee," he said.