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Is this the year for a woman VP; Neither presidential nominee seems likely to name a woman as his running mate in '84, but for the Democratic Party that move is edging ever closer

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A year ago her name flashed across the public mind when she faced a recall challenge from an extremist group, the White Panther Party, which objected to a city gun-control ordinance. She survived the recall election handily, and the momentum jetted her through her reelection last November.

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The election victories have also aided her national reputation, so that virtually every interviewer nowadays finally arrives at the question of the vice-presidency. She says she's weary of the question. ''I think she's very flattered by it, but she simply doesn't take it seriously,'' says press assistant Thomas Eastham, who accompanied her earlier this year to the United States Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington.

Asked what would happen if the party drafted her, Mayor Feinstein responded with, ''I couldn't imagine it,'' during a session of the women's caucus of mayors. ''I just won reelection. I am not a candidate for vice-president.''

''In our party it's been the nominee that selects the running mate,'' she notes in an interview.

But, nonetheless, Mrs. Feinstein took time out in Washington to speak to the Woman's National Democratic Club which had all the earmarks of a national political statement. Her topic was the federal deficit and the sins of the Reagan administration in cutting social services while ''tolerating wastefulness and inefficiency in military spending.

''If we don't talk about the deficit now, we will talk about little else for years to come,'' she said in the speech.

A longtime activist in city politics, Mayor Feinstein was early identified with reform and environmental movements but has now picked a centrist position, and she has been known to anger the politically active homosexual community of her city.

Mrs. Feinstein, who attended Roman Catholic schools but later chose the Jewish faith of her father, stands as one of the most striking and dynamic leaders on the Democratic roster.

Mayor Feinstein will be certain to have some of the national limelight next July when her city hosts the Democratic convention.

Even more reluctant to be seen as a possible vice-president is her fellow mayor, Kathy Whitmire of Houston, the young accountant who has weathered various storms, including a hurricane and a police mutiny, to win reelection in that Texas city.

Her concern, in fact, is more that big-city women mayors are disappearing. She and Mayor Feinstein formed the women's caucus of mayors because ''so many of the women who had served as mayors of significant cities were retiring . . . or being defeated,'' she says.

THE first woman mayor - or citywide officer - of Houston ticked off the names of cities, from Chicago to Austin to Phoenix, that have lost women mayors.

Once active in the equal rights movement and on other women's rights issues, Mrs. Whitmire holds, ''I think we've done much better in public life than anywhere else, or we wouldn't even be talking about the prospect of woman vice-president.''

Moreover, Mayor Whitmire says that women ''as a category do not bring anything different to a job.'' Instead, she says that an officeholder coming from the outside of the established power can make more reforms.

When Mrs. Whitmire took over as mayor, for example, she opened up city bidding to more firms and dispensed with the tradition of hiring city department heads from within the bureaucracy. She brought in the first black police chief, from Atlanta. ''That has been one of the best decisions I've ever made,'' she says.

But Mayor Whitmire credits the fact that she came from outside the city's establishment ranks, not her gender, for the changes.