"Ten's company and 20's a crowd," seems to be the slogan in Ward 4, that politically potent, affluent section of upper Northwest Washington. Every time there is a political opening, everybody in the neighborhood seems to be ready to jump into the race.

In 1974, when Arrington Dixon won the Democratic nomination to represent the ward on the City Council, there were 14 other hopefuls, and Dixon was able to win with a mere 20 percent of the votes.

Now Dixon has vacated the Ward 4 seat and has been elected council chairman. A special election to fill his seat, and the atlarge seat vacated by Mayor Marion Barry, is to be held May 1.

With the Feb. 20 deadline for filing petitions only a few days away, the list of likely candidates who have picked up petitions for the Ward 4 seat from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is approaching 20.

For the political connoisseur, there is a candidate for every imaginable palate. There are old names that have been on the ballot before -- Richard Clark, once a Republican, then an independent and now a Democrat; and community activist Norman Neverson, who gave it a go (unsuccessfully) against Dixon in 1974.

There are new names with good connections. Candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis, for instance, is the daughter of blood plasma researcher Charles Drew and a member by marriage of a family of prominent Washington funeral directors. She appears to be the candidate most likely to be endorsed by Dixon.

Candidate Barry Campbell was, until last summer, Dixon's top assistant on the City Council. Campbell was also a key political operative for Dixon until he had political differences with other close Dixon advisers.

By changing just a few offices being sought, one could almost use a ballot from last year's Democratic primary and find the names of still other candidates. Dorothy Maultsby, who ran for mayor but dropped out just prior to the Sept. 12 primary election, is running for the Ward 4 seat. So are two people who ran for council at-large in that election -- activist Goldie C. Johnson and Robert V. Brown.

And, in obedience to the apparently unwritten law that there must be a member of the D.C. school board in every major city election, Victoria T. Street, who replaced Hilda Mason on the school board when Mason was elected to the council, is also in the field.

There's also Felix Redmond, Nate Sims, Virgil Johnson, Ernest Bowman, Andrew Coleman, Mary Prahinski, Malcolm Diggs, Odis Von Blasingame, Therese Bankston and Gregory Rowe, according to elections board records.

With such a crowded field in a winner-take-all special election, the winning plurality is likely to be a small one. Thus, many ward activists said, organization -- targetting of voters and getting them to the polls -- is likely to be the key to success.

In the at-large race, the list of hopefuls is approaching 20. But the contest is like to focus on a match between lawyer John Ray, who was chosen by the D.C. Democratic State Committee to fill the vacancy until the election, and Douglas E. Moore, the maverick Democrat elected to the council in 1974 but turned out of office last fall.

Other familiar nems in the field are school board president Conrad Smith, two persons who ran at-large last fall (Democrat Hector Rodriguez and Independent Warren Hemphill), U.S. Labor Party perennial candidate Stuart Rosenblatt and Independent Jackson R. Champion.

Ray and Moore share some key constituencies. Both have ties to the city's influential black clergy, for example, and both are self-styled champions of the little people. In the past, the two have been so close politically that in last year's Democratic primary, when Ray was running for mayor, he endorsed Moore for city council chairman.

Shortly after that endorsement, Ray withdrew from the mayor's race and endorsed Barry, Moore's arch foe on the council, for mayor. Barry subsequently endorsed Ray as his own successor on the council.

Now Ray has picked up some of Barry's old supportes, who are expected to become a key part of his organization. At the same time, he has picked up many of Barry's old foes, who see his candidacy as an extension of their grudge match with Barry.

Many of these Barry opponents, who make up a key segment of the city's regular Democrats, supported Sterling Tucker for mayor and backed Dixon instead of Moore for council chairman. For them, the at-large race poses something of a dilemma.

They cannot support Ray wholeheartedly because they fought bitterly against his selection as interim replacement, preferring instead realtor H.R. Crawford or Capitol Hill aide Johnny Barnes.

Barnes, a legislative assistant to Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), is not running. Crawford was expected to run in the special election even though Ray was given the interim appointment. However, political observers believe that a published report showing that Crawford would make an estimated $150,000 profit on several homes he purchased for renovation in the Shaw area of the city severely damaged his political future.

At the same time, the Barry foes cannot support Moore openly because they denounced his candidacy when he ran against Dixon for chairman. Moreover, they do not see school board president Smith as a candidate capable of winning.

The result is likely to be a lot of closet support for Moore, some of them say privately. That support will be based not only on anti-Barry sentiments that have been transferred to Ray, but, according to some Ray supporters, based on a belief that Ray might pose a more serious threat to Dixon's reelection as council chairman in 1982 than would Moore.