John Ray is hoping to fend off several spirited opponents with a massive public relations effort and a conservative strategy as the race for the D.C. Democratic mayoral nomination enters its final grueling week.
In the face of the increasingly sharp attacks of his nearest rival, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Ray is maintaining the outward calm of a well-financed front-runner.
With a sizable lead in the polls and a huge pot of cash on hand, the at-large D.C. Council member is positioned to mute the messages of his rivals with an uninterrupted television blitz from now until the Sept. 11 primary.
"We're going to take the high road," Ray campaign manager George Mitchell said yesterday. "The others are expecting a fight, but it's not going to materialize."
Jarvis, a Ward 4 council member, has gained some ground on Ray in the past month, buoyed in part by the support of Washington's gay community. This morning, Jarvis is scheduled to receive the endorsement of Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr., the breakaway Catholic priest who earlier in the campaign had backed Del. Walter E. Fauntroy for mayor.
As District voters begin to focus on the election, some for the first time this summer, the strategies for the campaign's final days are as different as the five Democrats themselves.
Ray, who has raised about $1 million for the election -- more than three times the amount of his nearest rival -- attempted in two televised debates last week to stay above the fray. He used humor, rather than confrontation, to deflect the barbs of rivals Jarvis and Fauntroy, who have sought to portray him as a tool of developers and an enemy of renters.
David A. Clarke, chairman of the D.C. Council and the only white candidate in the field, has sought to remind voters in majority-black Washington of his ties to Howard University, where he attended law school, and his role in the formative days of the civil rights movement.
Widely known in political circles for his frugality and judicious use of limited campaign funds, Clarke plans this week to fire bursts of targeted mail -- a total of 200,000 pieces of literature -- to labor union households, tenants, senior citizens and registered Democrats.
Sharon Pratt Dixon, whose candidacy won a major boost, as well as some potential backlash, with her endorsement last week by The Washington Post, hopes the endorsement will bring her additional support among white and black voters in established communities across the city. Although she has badly trailed the other four in fund-raising, Dixon has won converts in candidate forums, two more of which are scheduled to be televised this week.
WJLA-TV (Channel 7) will air a mayoral debate at 10 p.m. Tuesday; WETA-TV (Channel 26) will broadcast its forum starting at 10 p.m. Friday.
Dixon aide David E. Byrd said yesterday that The Post's endorsement had the overnight effect of heightening interest in her campaign and generating fresh contributions and volunteers.
"The main thing we want to do now is focus on people who were leaning towards Sharon but who didn't sense momentum," said Byrd, adding that Dixon will be concentrating her efforts in predominantly black enclaves of Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8.
Fauntroy, who is relinquishing his 19-year seat as the District's delegate to Congress, has shifted his strategy in recent days, leaving the strongest attacks on Ray to Jarvis, while stressing his service on Capitol Hill.
Fauntroy adviser Robert L. Johnson said yesterday the campaign has a $40,000 radio effort planned for the final week, but will not air an anti-Ray commercial it had prepared.
"We felt the point had been made, and it will be carried by the other guys," Johnson said. "Now it's time for Walter to be a statesman."
Jarvis was in second place behind Ray in a poll published last week by The Post and has adopted as her own the themes that Fauntroy first aired against Ray. She was intensely critical of Ray during the first debate last week, but seemed to moderate her tone in the second forum televised last night on WRC-TV (Channel 4).
In recent days, Jarvis has relied heavily on the organizing efforts of Washington's gay community, where she is extremely popular. Friday night, for instance, she took her campaign to gay bars on Capitol Hill.
Buttressed by a superior field organization and the only candidate able to mount an extensive advertising effort on commercial television, Ray will be able to exert considerable influence on the rhythm of the final week.
While making as few waves as possible in debates with his four rivals, Ray plans to be "in the street" every day, also sending out sound trucks and volunteers to targeted precincts, Mitchell said.
At the same time, Ray is addressing his vulnerable points, such as the issue of rent control, which he opposed in 1985 but supports today. For instance, Ray is distributing new rent control fliers in Wards 1 and 2, areas of the city with large concentrations of renters, and is airing new telvision commercials this week, one of which is devoted to his stand on rent control.
The two other TV spots, which are part of an effort that will cost about $100,000 this week, will deal with racial harmony in the District and government efficiency, Mitchell said.
Joslyn N. Williams, a local labor leader and head of the city Democratic Party, said Ray is "doing a pretty good job of pushing his message and not playing to the tune of the other candidates. The other candidates need to force him to respond to their charges."
Mitchell said that although the other candidates may lack the resources to match Ray's, the size of the undecided vote leaves the race "wide open."
"The high undecided vote is still within the reach of other candidates," Mitchell said. "Dave has a shot, Charlene has a shot and Sharon is a long shot."Staff writer Mary Ann French contributed to this report.