SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor Dianne Feinstein has some ideas she thinks the Democrats might well use next year when they try to take the White House.
Feinstein, who has been mayor of an often fractious city for the last eight years, is not angling for a place on the Democratic presidential ticket, although she has not excluded herself from such a role.
"Do I plan to present myself as a candidate for President or vice president? No, I don't," Feinstein said.
"Do I plan to play a role in the next presidential election? I'd certainly like to, in one way or another."
Now 54, Feinstein has been mayor of San Francisco since Nov. 27, 1978, when George Moscone was assassinated and, as president of the board of supervisors, she inherited the job. She will complete her second full term at the end of 1987.
In a recent interview, the mayor said she does not plan to retire from public life.
Feinstein is proud of her record in running a city with many minorities that are militant and diverse both in race and life style. The city currently has an unemployment rate of only 4.6% and is witnessing a vigorous housing and small business renewal.
The mayor, who is believed to harbor ambition for higher state or national office, is married to businessman Richard Blum but uses the name of her second husband, Dr. Bertram Feinstein, a brain surgeon who died in 1978.
A few weeks ago she considered briefly a suggestion by friends that she run for the congressional seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Sala Burton. After a few days she announced that she would not run.
"I think I would have won," she said. But she thought that her moving to Washington would have touched off "a scramble" for the mayor's job, creating "a period of instability in city government," she said.
"Because of the way I came into office, and some personal losses in my life, I have become rather fatalistic," she said. "If something is meant to be, it'll be."
Feinstein said she recently met privately with Gary Hart, currently front-runner among the Democratic hopefuls.
"I was very impressed with his thoughts on a number of subjects," she said. "But I am not going to take a position until the field becomes clearer."
She said she was surprised at New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's withdrawal. "I thought he was in the race."
Feinstein said she does not expect a woman to be on the presidential ticket of either party next year and shared some specific ideas about picking a running mate.
"My own view is that the Democratic presidential candidates should think out the running mate early on, and run as a team. I think that offers substantial strength rather than selecting a running mate after the primaries."
And she had more advice to the Democratic presidential hopefuls: "Speak to the average mainstream American about the future. Present specific programs to solve problems."
Feinstein, who describes herself as a "moderate" and "not an arch-liberal," said that she became a Democrat "because the Democratic Party was the party whose program was doing, making life better for the people who had no options.
"Increasingly, in this country people without options are becoming a more dominant minority.
"All of a sudden there is the phenomenon of a huge underclass developing in America. I think it is because of a careless and thoughtless domestic policy."
The Democrats have an opportunity to do something about this "if they stay in the center" and appeal to the "mainstream of America" instead of tilting to the left or right, Feinstein said.
The mayor has traveled extensively throughout the world while in office, particularly on trade missions for San Francisco. She is vocal about global issues, especially U.S.-Soviet relations.
"There needs to be an answer to the kind of unbridled hostile competition that is going on with the Soviet Union," she said. "I think the American people do want arms limitation. I believe that they don't want to live their lives on the brink of war.
"I think our allies are confused. I think our policies are weak and hypocritical."
The mayor said that despite President Reagan's present difficulties, it would be unwise for the Democrats to count on an easy contest next year.
"I wouldn't be fooled," she said. "Our party has a much more difficult time because it is a much broader and much more diverse party. It takes in the interests of many groups of people. It is very difficult to work out a program that appeals broadly to America. And that's what has to be done. That's a challenge."