Boston, still locked into an acute financial stalemate in the short term, may have turned a long-term corner. In a city notorious for machine politics, voters in the Nov. 3 election rose in modest rebellion against the status quo:
* They solidly approved a ''district representation'' measure that changes the structure of city government. Beginning in 1983, the plan will require that nine of 13 seats on both the City Council and the school committee be filled by local neighborhood elections rather than (as at present) by citywide ''at large'' races. The measure, which faced strong resistance from the heavily Irish and conservative wards, won support from those seeking greater cooperation among elected officials, better representation of local neighborhoods, and a stronger voice for minorities.
* They added four new, young, well-educated members to the nine-member City Council. Voters toppled 11-term Councillor Patrick F. McDonough, replaced three other incumbents who had not run for reelection, and produced a council more representative of the city's diverse neighborhoods than any in the past 30 years. The new council includes a woman, Maura A. Hennigan, and the first black in a decade, Bruce C. Bolling.
* They replaced two of the five school committee members. The committee, running a system still under a court-ordered desegregation plan, has been wracked by bribery scandals and plagued by a runaway budget. The new committee has a majority of women for the first time in 76 years, and two black members for the first time in history. Committee president John D. O'Bryant, a black, was the leading vote-getter, although the city is 70 percent white.
The impact of these changes may be most felt by a man who was not even running: four-term Mayor Kevin H. White. The mayor, whose popularity has plummeted as the city's financial troubles have grown, did not nail his colors prominently to any of this year's electoral masts. But the election, pointing to a ''throw the rascals out'' mood, spells trouble for him in the 1983 election. The emergence this year of a newly powerful coalition of liberal, tenant, and minority forces - along with the apparently diminished ability of the policemen's and teachers' unions to sway the election - could begin to unravel the old patronage-and-ward-heeler organization that has supported the mayor. And the success of two-term Councillor Raymond L. Flynn, a runaway favorite among Tuesday's voters, gives new momentum to his interest in challenging Mayor White in 1983.