"Money doesn't go to the polls, people do," said Joe Carter, chairman of the strategy committee for John Ray's mayoral campaign.

Carter and many of the 250 people celebrating Ray's 39th birthday last night batted away questions about finances--or the lack thereof--as any kind of problem for John Ray, who recently cut his staff due to lack of funds. The guests, many of them longtime Ray supporters, gathered at Loew's L'Enfant Plaza Hotel for the party.

The ballroom was filled with red-and-white balloons anchored at the center of each table and rising to the ceiling. Four birthday cakes saying "Best Wishes to Our Next Mayor From Your Loyal Supporters" were on a table next to the band. And the evening's mystery guest was Alberta Ray--the candidate's mother--flown in as a surprise to her son from Daytona Beach, Fla.

The crowd made extra donations, in addition to the $15 to $100 they paid per ticket. A preliminary total from Bitsey Folger, fund-raising chairman, for last night's ticket sales was $10,000, but it cost $5,000 to finance the party.

"I worry about money every day," Ray said, between chats with many old friends at the reception by the hotel's pool. "But if I had to run a campaign in my basement I'd still run for mayor."

His enthusiasm was matched by Redskins Assistant General Manager Bobby Mitchell, who began working with Ray last August. "We all knew the mayor would get his money and everyone else would have to fight for theirs . . . we'll have our push in the end."

Most of the people who stood underneath the orange sky at sunset with a drink from the cash bar felt the slowest ride on the campaign trail would be the summer months.

"I think a lot of people are saying they'll check into the mayor's race after they come back from vacation in August," Steve Goldberg of the finance committee said. He and Kenneth Tatum, of the issues committee, said that Ray's biggest campaign hurdle to jump would be name recognition.

"I think the campaign is in a state of limbo," said Sue Boyd, who organizes Ward 3 activites. "People want to support him if he's viable, but that's a big if."

And as people began to move into the ballroom for cake, champagne and dancing, some speculated to the fall election time.

"The mayor will have this huge budget," Goldberg said. "You won't be able to turn on the TV and not see Marion's smiling face."

But that didn't phase Ray. "The race will come down to three people--Barry, Patricia Roberts Harris and me."