The invitations went out last week: Dorothy Maultsby, Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, was "cordially" inviting the press to a get-acquainted luncheon at the Harambee House Hotel.

But somewhere along the path toward generating a little media attention for her largely unpublicized participation in the Sept. 12 primary, a few things went awry. When a handful of reporters showed up at Harambee House yesterday, the front desk said it had never heard of Dorothy Maultsby, let alone her luncheon in Suite 1, a room designation that apparently doesn't exist.

A call to the Maultsby headquarters elicited the information that the luncheon had been moved to the "Zeta House," supposedly located at 1713 New Hampshire Ave. NW. As it turned out, a couple of "Maultsby for Mayor" posters could be found in the front windows of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority house, down the street at 1734 New Hampshire.

Inside, Maultsby eagerly greeted a Washington Post reporter and later a Post photographer. Of the more than 100 media representatives invited to the luncheon, they were the only ones to appear.

Maultsby said she changed the luncheon from the Harambee House after finding the hotel suite selected for her luncheon was more or less a bedroom, with two beds in it.

"It was absolutely too small," she said.

Her aides called reporters last Friday with the change in plans, she said, but it was painfully obvious that most never got the message or never intended to come anyway.

Maultsby, running her campaign on a frayed shoestring, had laid out a spread worthy of a black tie embassy party. There was a platter of fresh summer fruits, a tray of carefully sliced and pared cold vegetables, Spanish meatballs and baked chicken. There even were buckwheat biscuits and potato salad made by the candidate.

"The food was all donated, the sugar, the iced tea, everything," Maultsby said, although the sorority house rental cost $90. "What I'm trying to show is that it that it doesn't take $200,000 to run a campaign." She said she has raised about $3,300 so far.

Despite the meager turnout, Maultsby seemed undaunted, albeit a bit miffed that she can't generate more coverage of her campaign.It is an admittedly uphill struggle against an incumbent mayor, Walter E. Washington, two City Council members, Sterling Tucker and Marion Barry, and three others.

Maultsby, seated with five aides in an ornate room with French Provincial furniture and sparkling wall candlelights, said she gets "a very, very good response when I go door to door. Numerous people tell me more sense than the other three" front-runners.

"They're looking for someone new," she said of the city's voters. "The people are tired of all the same old business."