Mayor Marion Barry looked around the room at the crowd waiting anxiously for hime to formally announce his endorsement of John Ray as his replacement on the City Council.
"A lot of the faces look very familiar here. It looks like G Street," said a smiling Barry, referring to the location of his old campaign headquarters.
The mayor's remark of a few weeks back was one of the political understatements of the year. Despite frequent disclaimers, Ray's candidacy in Tuesday's special election has become a quickly-called command performance of Barry's scrappy political company, with the mayor and some of his chief lieutenants playing key supporting roles.
Barry fund-raisers, Max Berry and Nancy (Bitsy) Folger, for example, are raising money for Ray. Barry strategist Joe Carter is helping Ray plan campaign strategy. David Abramson, whose firm produced Barry's campaign ads, has assembled Ray's radio advertising package. Ray's campaign headquarters on 13th Street NW downtown is around the corner from where Barry's used to be.
As Ray travels around the city asking to be elected to the seat to which he was appointed in January on an interim basis, he is trying to walk a fine line between being the candidate best able to work in partnership with Barry and the mayor's man on the council, as some opponents allege.
"There has to be a healthy relationship between the City Council and the Mayor," Ray said recently. "In a sense, that means someone who can agree with the mayor when they think he is right and disagree with him when they think he's wrong, and not someone who blows up a storm to express his disagreement with the mayor."
The last reference is to Ray's principal opponent in the campaign, former Council member Douglas E. Moore, who Ray is trying to portray as an ineffective political loner.
But Ray is also quick to point out whenever asked that he opposes legalized gambling, while Barry does not. He also supports a citizens referendum on the proposed $99 million downtown convention center, Ray says, and Barry does not.
"I think it's silly when you look at the total picture," Ray said recently when an interviewer pressed him on the shadow of Barry that hovers over Ray's campaign." "The first group that endorsed me was a group of Baptist preachers." Ministers were one of the groups that have least supported Barry in the past.
Ray, a 35-year-old George Washington University law school graduate, is in many respects a creation of Barry's rise to power in last year's elections for mayor.
On Oct. 10, 1977, Ray, then a former Lawyer for the Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee officially announced his "John Who?" campaign for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the September primary.
Ten months later, with little money and virtually no recognition in the polls, Ray dropped out of the race and actively threw what little support he had to Barry. "John gambled and he won," one loyal Ray supporter said.
After Barry's election, the mayor-elect endorsed Ray as his interim successor on the City Council and the D.C. Democratic State Committee selected Ray. Now Ray is running against 10 others to complete the remaining 19 months of Barry's four-year council term.
One major theme of Ray's campaign is jobs. He tells that the city needs more skilled and unskilled jobs for persons not properly prepared for the essentially white-collar job market now available in the city.
"We can talk jobs all we want. We can bring thousands of jobs to the city," Ray said yesterday. "But if our citizens don't have skills to do the job, it won't reduce unemployment."
Ray proposes attracting light industrial and software jobs in now unused industrial land in the city and in encouraging the owners to hire local residents through reductions in city taxes for those who hire local workers.
Ray said he also believes that job training and preparation programs in the city can be increased and improved. Part of that would come through the City Coucil having a "working committee" on education to actively oversee public school system operations as he said has never been done in the past.
Ray said he plans to propose legislation that would provide incentives for renovation and for building apartments and to tax those who hold properties in a dilapidated state for long periods of time waiting for the neighborhood to reach a state of economic resurgence.
Ray said he also is in favor of providing tax incentives to condominium owners who set aside a certain percentage of their units to rent to low-and middle-income persons.
Beyond the issues, Ray said he thinks the major concern of the voters should be the ability to work, a quality, he maintains, Moore has not shown.
"We have position takers. We've had them for 10 years," Ray told one audience in a nameless reference to his major opponent, former Council member Douglas E. Moore. "But ask yourself, what have they done to improve your life? If you can't say they've done this, if you can't say they've done that, then you don't need to send them anywhere but home."
The other candidates in the at-large race are Richard S. Blanks Sr., Frannie Goldman, Warren A. Hemphill Sr., Hector Rodriguez, H. Chris Brown, Jackson R. Champion, Stuart D. Rosenblatt, David G. Harris and Lin Covington. CAPTION: Picture 1, John Ray; Picture 2, John Ray, left, clasps hands with Mayor Barry during a recent campaign stop. Kenneth Stancil for the Washington Post