The defeat of the bottle bill showed that campaign targeting can be used effectively to pit blacks against whites in District voting booths, but several city leaders said last week that it was racial differences, not racism, that underlay the stark result on Tuesday.

D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, whose election last year also was marked by voting along racial lines, said he is concerned about some "disturbing" signs that city elections are influenced by racial considerations.

But the mayor quickly added that the voters' rejection of the bottle deposit proposal may simply reflect basic cultural differences between black and white voting blocs.

The Rev. Smallwood E. Williams, pastor of Bible Way Church and a leading minister in the District, saw the election as affluent white voters concerned about the environment versus blacks more worried about social issues closer to home, such as poverty, crime and housing.

"The environmentalists, God bless them, are doing a fine job -- but black people have more to think about, and they don't see the same priorities," said Williams, an opponent of Initiative 28. "You have to give us this day our daily bread before you can move on to dessert. And I think the environmentalists were already working on dessert when the others were still on the soup course."

John Hechinger, a businessman and Democratic National Committee member from the District, was among those who attributed the vote to income differences between the city's wealthier whites and less affluent blacks. Hechinger said he believes there is little reason to be concerned that racial friction determined the 55 to 45 percent vote.

Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) painted a more ominous picture, however, suggesting the beverage industry group that opposed bottle deposits exploited growing black resentment against whites borne of Reagan administration policies and what Fauntroy described as negative media portrayals of blacks.

"Many blacks I have talked to were thinking, 'They {whites} are out to get you, and you know they don't care about the city,' " Fauntroy said. "If the {industry} strategists included that factor in their planning against the initiative, I have to concede that it was wise. But that is distressing to me."

And Matthew S. Watson, former D.C. auditor and a Ward 3 civic activist, said he worries that the beverage industry's success in targeting black voters and swaying them against the bottle initiative could impair the ability of whites and blacks to work together on other issues.

"If we constantly have this sort of thing where people campaign in one part of the District, we're not going to be able to come together on other issues," Watson said. "Whenever one part of the city begins to feel that it's excluded, it's less likely to come together on other issues."

Tuesday's results, in which voters in black precincts opposed deposits and those in white precincts supported the idea, followed an intense, $2 million beverage industry campaign that focused its antideposit efforts in black neighborhoods.

After an initial campaign survey showed that 70 percent of D.C. voters favored deposits on carbonated beverages, the industry devised a strategy based on findings that lower-income blacks were responsive to arguments that deposits would be too costly and inconvenient. The industry game plan appealed to more affluent blacks, meanwhile, with suggestions that Initiative 28 would hurt small businesses and the less fortunate.

To make its plan work, an industry coalition calling itself the Clean Capital City Committee hired minority consulting firms and dozens of black political operatives to take the antideposit message to black neighborhoods, with help from black ministers. The industry group then bombarded the city with negative direct mail, media advertisements and telephone calls, focusing its efforts throughout the campaign on black-oriented newspapers and radio stations.

Although the targeting of blacks was a critical campaign ingredient, Anita Bonds, a veteran D.C. campaign organizer who ran Barry's reelection effort last year, warned against quick judgments about a racial factor in the Initiative 28 vote, saying such judgments could "fan the flames" of racism at a time when the District is at a "critical point" in its political development.

The industry strategists simply pitched their campaign intensely toward a target of opportunity, turning out voters in black precincts in numbers far higher than normal for an off-year election, she said.

"In politics, you try to define your issues very carefully and the people who you need to win," Bonds said. "If they used the right vehicles to reach those people, then they would have people coming out for their position."

In fact, said Keith Frederick, chief pollster for the industry coalition, surveys in the final months of the campaign showed that voter sentiment was shifting, moving toward an even split. The industry group at that time decided to take its campaign to television, and ran commercials on three Washington area stations that hit hard on issues most appealing to blacks.

"We really couldn't get over the top until we could control the dialogue and really intrude on people" through their television sets, Frederick said.

D.C. Council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) suggested that the reason blacks presented a target of opportunity for industry strategists is that blacks are less involved in environmental issues. An active supporter of the initiative, Mason noted that she often is one of the few blacks present when she attends meetings on environmental issues around the country.

But it was money that determined the election, Mason argued, adding that she was "very discouraged" that the industry was able to attract the hundreds of paid black workers who fought the initiative at the ward and precinct level.

"I would not be so unhappy that we lost if people had not been manipulated with money," Mason said. "People were used because they could be influenced with money . . . . I'm sure there are more blacks who need money than whites."

Even as many community leaders attributed the racially divided election results to economic, cultural and other political factors, though, some said they saw racism as an element in the campaign.

Joseph Carter, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, which was one of the original backers of Initiative 28, recalled debates in which speakers opposing the initiative framed the issue as cause for black resentment -- white environmentalists wanting to put blacks to work picking up bottles.

But Carter added that he thinks those racial tensions were merely a product of the campaign, and not something that need affect issues in the District in the future.

"I think the people involved made it racist," he said of the initiative's opponents. "People were being paid to make it racist."