When the mayoral brass ring lay far out of reach of Council Chairman David Clarke last night, supporters at his party at the Embassy Row hotel were saddened but not surprised. Neither was the candidate when he arrived at 9:30 and conceded to Sharon Pratt Dixon.

Dignified, subdued, casually dressed in a white bush shirt and dark trousers, Clarke worked the room, this time thanking the 135 people -- young and old, black and white -- who turned out for a candidate they all described as "honest," "concerned," "trustworthy."

Why didn't that message come across? Said Bill Treanor, a former member of the D.C. school board and long-time friend of Clarke's from their days working together in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the mid-'60s, "From the start, the campaign -- and Dave in particular -- was completely tidal-waved by the mayor, and the trial, and the mayor's gutter race-baiting," said Treanor. "The mud was going to splash on someone like Dave."

Earlier in the evening, the Clarke troops were slow to assemble, resisting the inevitable. "Don't tell me anything -- I don't want to hear it," said Mildred Skipper Austin, who was wearing -- as many were -- the bright blue T-shirt of the Clarke campaign. "A lot of it was racism -- almost everything you picked up referred to his color. The man is a qualified and good man."

Once Clarke appeared and spoke, the discouraged group dispersed. But Clarke -- ever the public servant -- had one more request for his loyalists. "I need your help tomorrow for housekeeping," he said. "We need to take our posters down."