Not even the balloons were optimistic. "Fauntroy Family Picnic," they said. Leftovers, apparently, from a much happier gathering.

Early in the evening, inside Studio A of Black Entertainment Television headquarters in Northeast, only about 70 folks had shown up, counting the caterers, security officers and BET technicians. The tuxedo-clad caterers, offering skewered shrimp, skewered meatballs and skewered chicken, had been told to prepare for a couple of hundred.

When the first results were broadcast, only a few people bothered to cluster around the row of TV sets at the far end of the studio. On the opposite end, keeping their seats, looking glum, were most of the people wearing T-shirts promoting Del. Walter E. Fauntroy for mayor.

Seven percent for Fauntroy. Didn't look good. But Robert Johnson, BET president and Fauntroy's campaign manager, kept talking the talk. The early results reflect the white-collar vote, he said. Just wait until the blue-collar precincts are heard from.

Later, during President Bush's address to Congress, which Fauntroy attended, a 10-foot-tall bank of TV screens was switched to BET's video programming. The sound of M.C. Hammer and Janet Jackson gradually grew to drown out the voice of the president on the other sets.

At least it started to sound like a party.

Fauntroy's appearance around 10:30 elevated the mood. Smiling strenuously, he stood behind the lectern and graciously conceded that his "great leap of faith" -- the surrendering of his 18-year congressional career for a run at the mayor's office -- wouldn't be fulfilled. His words were punctuated by an "amen" or two from his supporters, who now amounted to more than 100.

When the speech was over, it was time again to pump up the volume. Only this time, people mingled and chatted and laughed and hugged. One young woman banged a tambourine against her ample hip to the dance beat, a drink in her other hand.

"It was a nice try," said a somber Robin Garrett, a volunteer from Ward 8, to a passing comrade outside the BET building. "It's gonna be better days ahead." She had the tambourine now, and she shook it.