Mrs. Whitmire at Houston's helm

When outsiders think of Houston they often conjure up images of rip-roaring oil companies, a ''man's town'' where crafty financial deals are cut by hard-driving entrepreneurs and a gutsy trail-blazing metropolis of go-getters who face high housing prices, jammed freeways, and urban crowding. There is also , of course, another Houston, with its solid cultural base and unique racial mix that mirrors the diversity of the nation itself.

And now Houston has once again blazed a new course by electing its first woman mayor - City Controller Kathryn Whitmire - who racked up over 62 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election. Mrs. Whitmire joins women mayors in such key US cities as Chicago, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

Three of these cities, it might be noted, are southern and western ''Sunbelt'' communities. Some political scientists argue that Sunbelt politics represent the wave of the future for the United States in general. So, without making too much ado about this week's municipal election, perhaps it would still be wise to keep an eye on how well Houston - the nation's fifth largest city - manages its problems in the next few years. Congratulations Mrs. Whitmire - and Houston!

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