Mayor Marion Barry asked the minority businessmen to "stand up and let them see you" last night at the $1,000-a-plate Carter/Mondale Presidential Kickoff Dinner, and nearly half the people in the room stood up.
"They didn't come here on food stamps," said the mayor, as the rest of the room applauded.
The black community, which was a significant factor in Carter's election in 1976, seemed to be lining up solidly behind him again last night at the Washington Hilton, though more than one black businessman said that they still have a "wait-and-see" attitude on the president's urban and minority business programs.
The formally clad guests lingered at a cocktail reception on the hotel's terrace near the swimming pool, and the dinner began late. It was delayed further, during the cold cucumber soup, by the introduction and applauding of 20 distinguished guests, including five cabinet members - Patricia Harris, Cecil Andrus, Ray Marshall, Brock Adams and Robert Bergland-as well as inflation-fighter Alfred Kahn and presidential assistants Hamilton Jordan and Sarah Weddington.
Vice President Walter Mondale, the principal speaker, arrived just before the filet migon with pommes pailles and tomato stuffed with ratatouille , and his talk was delayed by a bagpiper who accompanied two children-obviously out past their bedtimes-who performed an Irish step dance. The mystery of why they were there was cleared up when master of ceremonies Joseph Tydings introduced one of them as his daughter Alexandria.
If Carter is in political trouble, nobody at the fund-raiser seemed to be noticing. "The most common question I have been asked is whether he is going to get the nomination and be reelected," said Ozzie Clay, one of the organizers of black participation in the event. "I've been telling them that he will be."
Asked about the candidacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), he echoed a statement heard often at that dinner: "I'll take Kennedy at his word when he says he's not going to run."
Democratic National Chairman John White, asked about the endorsement of the draft-Kennedy movement by Americans for Democratic Action, called it "a nonpolitical event."
"Those of us who have been around for a while know that ADA's endorsement puts Carter in good company," he said, and went on to list Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson, who all were denied ADA's endorsement. On his own rumored candidacy for governor of Texas, he said pointedly, "I think the easy way to run for something is not to be a candidate."
One of the evening's few negative notes was sounded by guest of honor Vice President Walter Mondale, who noted that the Carter administration has "a few problems-energy, you may not have noticed, is one of them," Then he went on to cite a long list of accomplishments, chiefly in foreign policy: the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, the diplomatic recognition of China, the SALT II treaty and the Panama Canal treaty among them.
"Some people say, 'Worry about the polls,'" said Mondale. "But I've never seen a person of integrity, ability and leadership who worked for the people and didn't get reelected."
He had apparently forgotten his earlier compliment to former senator Joseph Tydings, his "old seat-mate" in the Senate: "When the word got out that we sat together for six years, they dumped him in Maryland."
In spite of the dumping of Carter by the ADA, Stuart Eizenstat, who had pleaded his cause, said, "I felt good; I was somewhat successful."
After his speech to the ADA, he added, "At least a dozen people came up to me and said, 'You did a hell of a job.'"
Whatever Carter's status with the liberal wing of his party, he seems to be doing well with contributors. John Dalton, treasurer of the Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, said he was feeling "very good" about early fund-raising efforts. "We have raised $1.6 million in only three months since the committee was started. In 1975, Ford raised less than a million during the whole year."
More than $100,000 of that total was raised for last night's dinner by members of the minority business community, according to Harvey Jones, one of the organizers. Minority businessmen from more than a dozen states attended, he said, and a good proportion of them were Republicans.
Washington businessman Bill Clement explained why: "This administration has been the most responsive of any to minority business."
In his welcoming remarks, Mayor Barry announced that 103 out of approximately 250 tickets sold for the dinner were purchased by minority businessmen. Warming to his interstate audience, he told them that the District of Columbia is "the last colony . . . but we are confident that we are going to carry the 38 states to give us freedom."
He recalled that "Nixon once described the District of Columbia as the crime capital of the world. We who lived here were upset at the time, but looking at it in retrospect, we know what he meant."
Mondale echoed the D.C. statehood plea by including a greeting to "Senator Faauntroy, wherever you are" in his introductory remarks.
But he got a bigger laugh when he greeted Transportation Secretary Brock Adams as "the man who single-handedly persuaded Americans to get out of their cars and get on trains." CAPTION: Picture 1, Mayor Marion Barry, with HUD Secretary Patricia Harris and John Hechinger; Picture 2, Vice President Mondale, with Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Williams; photos by Harry Naltchayan-The Washington Post; Picture 3, Alfred Kahn, left, and Leon N. Weiner; by Harry Naltchayan-The Washington Post