D.C. mayoral candidate John Ray, who has been criticized by his rivals for his stands on rent control and other housing issues, has started airing radio commercials on predominantly black stations touting himelf as a staunch ally of tenants.

The radio advertisements, the first of the mayoral campaign, are a sign that the race is starting to heat up with less than six weeks to go before the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

"During his 11 years on the city council, John Ray passed more laws to strengthen tenants' rights than any other council member," one advertisement states. "The record speaks for itself."

The campaign commercial cites legislation establishing subsidies for low-income renters, tax abatements for landlords who fix up distressed property, and provisions guaranteeing senior citizens lifetime tenancy in buildings no longer covered by rent control.

"My programs have helped low- and moderate-income families and senior citizens find safe, affordable rental housing," Ray, an at-large member of the council, is quoted as saying. "As mayor, I will continue the fight for tenants' rights."

Ray's new advertising campaign follows weeks of attacks from some of his Democratic rivals, in particular council chairman David A. Clarke and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, over Ray's numerous contributions from developers and other real estate interests and his role in the 1985 city debate over rent control.

Led by Ray, the council approved legislation in 1985 that would have decontrolled apartment units as they become vacant, but parts of the bill were overturned in a citywide voter referendum. Clarke and Fauntroy supported the overturn.

Clarke said yesterday that Ray's advertisement ignores Ray's role in that debate, as well as the fact that the 1985 legislation changing rent control permitted landlords to raise the rents in certain cases more than was then permitted by law.

"They {the ads} don't tell the whole story," Clarke said. "John's politics has been to take the money of landlords and use it to try to convince tenants that he acted in their interest, rather than in the interest of the people paying for the ads."

Robert L. Johnson, Fauntroy's campaign manager, said the advertisment is "distorting the facts, and he is using developer money to cover it up."

Johnson also accused Ray of ducking a television appearance with Fauntroy on Fox Morning News this coming Monday. The station had invited both, but because only Fauntroy accepted the invitation, the station canceled the segment late yesterday, the station said.

"John Ray is afraid to debate the issues with Fauntroy -- man to man, one on one," Johnson said.

Margaret Gentry, Ray's press secretary, said Ray would not respond to Johnson's assertion, but she said Ray turned down the invitation because he had no desire "to engage in a debate on a non-issue." She said the station had asked the two candidates to discuss Fauntroy's recent attacks on Ray.

Gentry said the commercial on Ray's landlord-tenant record was not designed to blunt the recent criticism by Clarke, Fauntroy and others.

"Housing's always been an important part of Mr. Ray's record," Gentry said. He said the commercial on tenant rights began airing Thursday on four FM and four AM stations. The first radio spot will soon be followed by two others, one focusing on crime and drugs that includes an endorsement from former D.C. police chief Burtell M. Jefferson and another that discusses families and senior citizens.

Meanwhile, another one of Ray's Democratic opponents, Sharon Pratt Dixon, opened a new attack on the front-runner, decrying Ray's refusal to rule out new taxes as an "irresponsible" approach to the city's financial crisis. Dixon said new taxes would only contribute to the flight of city residents to the suburbs. "I'm just ruling it out," Dixon said.

Ray responded to Dixon's attack on taxes by saying "there would be no increase in property taxes or income taxes in a John Ray administration. Before we increased any other fees or taxes, we would do a number of things to eliminate waste and bring spending under control."

In an unrelated development, Jesse L. Jackson, a candidate for one of the District's two new shadow seats in the U.S. Senate, reported raising $21,341 so far for the Democratic Party primary election on Sept. 11. Of the nearly 100 contributors to Jackson's campaign, five were District residents, according to the D.C. campaign finance office.

Staff writer Mary Ann French contributed to this report.