To kick off the local political hunting season, Conrad and Peggy Cooper Cafritz held a nonfund-raiser party for Mayor Marion Barry.

By her count, 302 people trampled over the Persian rug in the hallway of the Cafritzes' Northwest home, drank white wine, ate a buffet dinner and filled every niche of the first floor.

The guest of honor arrived at 9:45. Those who waited for him included his cultural adviser, Mildred Bautista; board members from New Playwrights' Theatre; gallery owner Chris Middendorf; Source Theatre's Bart Whiteman, and Vernard Gray of Miya Gallery. On their way out the front door the guests received a three-page flyer titled "Progress in the Arts During the Barry Administration" and questionnaires asking them whether they supported Barry and, if so, how much money could they spare.

"We thought if we had the largest party to date in the campaign," said Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the chairman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts, "that would show him how much support there is in the arts community."

"I think he's been pretty cool," said Vernard Gray, who applauded Barry for his support of the arts throughout the year. "Black artists have been organizing. I belong to an association of black gallery owners. We'll be looking at how the Barry administration can help us to increase visibility and to survive."

Eric Sayles, a board member of New Playwrights' Theatre, said he too would be looking to Barry. "We've all suffered because of budget cuts," said Sayles. "So we're interested in finding out what he has to say about helping arts organizations which have been severely cut."

Barry was greeted with hoots and hollers from the rowdier crowd members.

"Ohhh, you've got a lot of talking to do tonight," said Ophelia Roache, a member of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, as she greeted Barry.

But before Barry gave his talk, Cafritz stood on the stairs and ticked off some of the mayor's arts accomplishments. For example: the D.C. Arts Commission budget increased from $163,000 to $784,100.

"We're going to make Washington, D.C., the cultural capital of the world," said Barry, taking his place next to Cafritz on the stairs. "New York City might as well give it up . . ." This got a big hand from the crowd.

"I do this," said Barry of his arts involvement, "not because it's popular, not because it's sometimes politically good. I do it because I believe in it."

This the group swallowed politely. But when he got around to saying, "This is a nonpolitical affair," the room was filled with guffaws.

"Yes it is! Yes it is!" said Peggy Cafritz, grinning.

"Let me tell you what I mean . . ." said Barry.

"No money," whispered one guest.

"Since I haven't announced that I'm going to run," said Barry, stressing it was only a question of when and not if, "you can't make out your checks tonight. But once I announce, we're going to start a committee called Artists for the Reelection of Marion Barry."

After that, he submerged himself into the crowd. One person who might do some work for him is Ron Lee. His nametag said "unemployed." "I quit," said the former Xerox executive. "I don't like to work. I'm going to write books and make love."