It was an ideal morning for one-on-one campaigning in some of the forgotten neighbourhoods of Washington. The sun already was high in the cloudless spring sky. A late sleeper straggled out of one building in the Green Leaf Gardens housing project in Southwest Washington and headed towards a small group that had gathered on a stoop across the street.
Around the corner was John L. Ray, the candidate who based his campaign for a mayor of the District of Columbia on the alleged indifferences of city hall towards such politically dormant 'little people' as those who live in the projects.
This should have been John Ray country, but Democrat Ray was not optismistic as he left the faded-white brick building at 6th and Q Streets SW where had had spent half an hour trying to line up support for his campaign among some of the workers at Southwest Community House.
"It's difficult," Ray said. "These people have organised the community. But they've accomplished what they have without any help from downtown, and they're sort of leery about all politicians.
They're glad to see someone other than (City Council Cahriman Sterling) Trucker and (Council member Marion) Barry. But . . . He let the sentence trail off unfinished, shruggling his shoulders in apparent disappointment.
There were more "but's" an hour later. Now Ray was on the 14th Street riot corridor in northwest Washington, where he darted in and out of liquor stores, dress shops and shoe stores and waded into a crowd that had gathered among the bags of trash and broken bottles at a street corner park.
"We've got to get those fellas out downtown, I need your help," he enthusiastically told William Johnson, who stood behind the counter at Sarge's Post, a liquor store near 14th and Harvard St. N.W.
"Yeah, they ain't no good," Johnson agreed.
That's why we need to get 'em out," Ray continued.
You may not be good, either," Johnson told Ray, lifting his eyes from the candidate's literature.
No matter how warm the weather, there are still a few cold moments for Ray these days as he tries to shore up his political base in an effort to win the Democratic nomination for a mayor in the Sept. 12 primary election.
Ray has placed great emphasis in his campaigning stragety on winning over people like those in improverished Southwest, along the old and in poverty-plagued Anacostia - area 14th St. not corridor often ignored by other political candidates because their inhabitants usually are infrequent votes.
At the same time, Ray said he hopes to hold his own against the three major mayoral candidates in the politically important upper-income sections of northwest Washington, where voter turnout generally is higher and candidate attention usually greater. The three major candidates are Mayor Walter E. Washington, City Council member Barry and Council Chairman Tucker.
Ray sees his own potential margin of victory in those sections in some portions of the city east of the Anacostia River with traditionally low voter turnout.
"What's gon' happen here in Anacostia is that they're going to vote this time," Ray said during an interview Friday in his campaign office on Good Hope Rd. SE. "I'm not putting all of my faith to Anacostia and saying the welfare mothers are going to put me in office. But they're going to make the difference for me."
At times, Ray's efforts to bring these key supporters into his fold find him advocating belief in the electoral process as much as his own political cause. Many of the People he meets along the streets are not registered voters and some of them say voting does no good.
Ray gives these people post card registration forms . "Just remember it was John Ray that got you registered. We can't throw those fellas out if you don't vote. Don't let me down," he told one.
William McFarland, a 50-year-old street vendor who Ray encountered outside McFarland's red-white-and blue hot dogs stand near 14th and Kenyon streets NW is among those who are registered. McFarland wanted to know Ray's qualifications for office.
'I'm a lawyer by trade," Ray began, soon pointing out that "I spent some time in the military."
"How much time have you spent in the ghetto?" McFarland quickly asked.
"I live in the ghetto," Ray said. "1378C Street NE.
That's Capitol Hill," said McFarland, with "Gotcha" expression written all over his face.
"It's changed," Ray responded. "They're pushing the ghetto out."
"I hope you can do what you say, and I hope you got backbone," McFarland said. "We don't need nobody else without any backbone."
Although Ray has spent a lot of time on the sidewalks and in the businesses along the 14th Street corridor and Martin Luther King Avenue SE in Anacostia, he also has appeared before numerous civic groups throughout the city, as well as before church congregations, at condidates forums and at get-acquainted cocktail parties thrown by his supporters.
Ray's essential message is that the city government is in need of a change because all are a part of the current city leadership. "Let's not replace a storm with a hurricane," he said last month at a candidates forum in Adams-Morgan sponsored by the Americans for Democratic Action.
Sometimes he grips the sides of the lectern firmly, like a preacher before the congregation. In stern tones, he lectures on what he considers the political sins of a city government that doesn't work because it is lazy.
"We need to introduce the work ethic into the D.C. government," he told a meeting of church officials and community people at Second St. Paul Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. "If you've got a sloppy investment, you get a sloppy return. I'm not too bashful t say that the people downtown are doing a sloppy job."
Across town, at a recent meeting of North Cleveland Park Citizens Association, lawyer Ray, holding a rolled up a piece of paper in one hand with the other stuffed in his pocket, paced back and forth in front of the audience, like one of those television trial lawyers in final argument before the jury.
"Let's look at Mr. Tucker. He runs all over town and says "Trust me, I have all the connections," Ray said. "If he has all the connections, why didn't he work with the mayor to solve all the problems?"
Some of those who hear Ray say they are impressed and willing to give him a second look. Beatrice Chappell, a 64-year-old retired government worker, heard Ray address the North Cleveland Park Civic Association gathering, "He was kind of a joke to a lot of people because we had never heard of him before," she said afterwards. "But it's nice to hear somebody saying something different. I think he's adding to the diversity of people we can vote for."
Ray said he knows that such responses are only a first step and that before Sept. 12 those sentiments have to be turned into votes. That will require a campaign organization, of which he now has only the skeleton. It will also require money - about $150,000, he said. On that score, Ray needs about $140,000 more.
Much of the money Ray has raised so far has come from out-of-town persons he met when he was a lawyer for the Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee. Ray is a virtual unknown in many of the circles that are the prime source for political funds in this city so he expects much of the remaining money he acquires to also come from outside Washington.
Some will also come, he said, from envelops to be passed out among members of the congregations of some two-dozen churches whose ministers have endorsed his candidacy. One of the principal sources of support for Ray is the group of the black Baptist ministers who make up the John F. Kennedy League for Universal Justice and Goodwill.
One piece of literature Ray frequently passes out is a mimeographed copy of an article from the D.C. Gazettee entitled, "John Ray: The Fourth Dog on the Campaign Trail."
Until he can assemble a more complete political organization, Ray said he is not ashamed to wear that label during this first-ever try for public office.
"A key is to remain new. We don't want John Ray to just be a Sterling Tucker, Marion Barry or Walter Washington, he said the other day. "I want to be just like a termite," Ray said. "When you see the termite you know he's already done the deed.