D.C. mayoral candidate Walter E. Fauntroy plans to intensify his attack against rival John Ray this week with a cable television commercial assailing Ray's record on tenant rights, rent control and campaign contributions from real estate developers.
The commercial, scheduled to begin airing Friday on several major cable channels in the District, is the first television spot in the mayor's race to draw a sharp contrast between two of the candidates.
"Walter Fauntroy fought for civil rights; John Ray fought against tenant rights," says the narrator of the advertisement, which features shrinking images of Ray's face.
The commercial describes Fauntroy, the District's delegate to Congress, as a "leader for rent control" and asserts Ray "voted against rent control." Fauntroy is "putting community housing first," while Ray has "accepted over $100,000 from downtown developers" in the campaign, the commercial says.
Fauntroy campaign manager Robert L. Johnson said yesterday the commercial draws a "truthful" distinction between the two candidates, but Ray denounced the ad for what he said are its negative tone and distortions of his record on landlord-tenant issues.
"It's pitiful," Ray said of the 30-second spot. "One would expect more from a minister . . . . This is his last-ditch effort to put some life in his campaign."
Ray, who most polls show is leading in the Democratic Party's mayoral primary, said he has supported several tenant causes during his years on the D.C. Council, including lifetime tenancy for the elderly and prohibitions against condominium conversions.
Ray also said he staunchly supported rent control, although he has drawn criticism from tenant activists for his 1985 vote for legislation that would have decontrolled units in apartment buildings where the vacancy rate reached 60 percent.
In April, the Tenants Organization Political Action Committee endorsed Democratic mayoral candidate David A. Clarke, the council chairman who also has criticized Ray for his stand on the rent control issue. Ray said at the time of that endorsement that rent control was "the only issue that Dave Clarke has."
Although Fauntroy will be spending little money on the commercial -- less than $20,000 for a week or two of air time -- his aides believe it will be well targeted to key District voters.
About 55,000 homes in the city subscribe to cable television; Fauntroy's ad will run on such channels as Black Entertainment Television, Cable News Network, the ESPN sports channel and the USA channel.
Johnson said the commercial represents a test of populist themes that Fauntroy, whose own polling data show him trailing Ray, could use as the mayoral campaign heats up.
"We're not attacking all developers," Johnson said, "but those who think Washington, D.C., is just the Federal Triangle and downtown. We're looking for developers for whom D.C. is a collection of neighborhooods, who are interested in the development of H Street and Southeast and along Georgia Avenue."
Ray said he doubted that Fauntroy or any of the other Democrats in the race could make much headway with negative commercials because such advertising does not sit well with voters.
"Voters are tired of negative advertisements," Ray said. "We saw that in the Virginia gubernatorial election."
In the governor's race last year, Republican J. Marshall Coleman aired commercials attacking the record of his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Wilder, who also waged an aggressive ad campaign, won the election by a very thin margin.