Regardless of whether they live in modest neighborhoods of small and tidy homes or in more exclusive and palatial quarters, residents of Ward 4 in Northwest Washington seem to be concerned foremost about a decline in their quality of life.

They talk about something most of the mayoral candidates are reluctant to discuss: that the city's looming deficit is likely to lead to higher taxes. They mourn the loss of safer times, before drugs and crime invaded their commercial districts. And they want better schools.

"Everybody says John Ray is going to win," said Ellie Anderson, president of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association. But many also think "John Ray is definitely going to raise taxes," she said, "and that is a problem for him."

Clyde Williams, 28, who is vice president of the D.C. Young Democrats, said, "The average person my age really cannot afford to buy a home in D.C. Initially you can find an apartment inside Washington, but when you get ready to buy a house, you have to go the suburbs."

High taxes and housing costs are "squeezing out the middle class who would like to stay here and live in this city," he said. "I don't think there's one simple solution . . . but it's {the winner's} duty as mayor" to solve the problem.

Sandra Butler Truesdale, who is chairwoman of the Ward 4 Democrats and a candidate for the D.C. school board, said she senses that mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis, who represents the ward on the D.C. Council, is right on the heels of Ray, an at-large council member.

"People admire her, and would like to see her in the position, but they have a prejudice about being a woman," Truesdale said. "I think that people love the image of John Ray -- the family man, the religious man, the man who can handle desperate situations. I think he presents an image of being calm and being able to administrate."

On the other hand, Anderson said she resents the contrast between the image Ray carefully paints in his campaign ads and some of the facts of his life.

"I just don't see John Ray as a role model for our youth," she said. "He has been so secretive about his life. I didn't know about his child with an English woman . . . . If it doesn't matter, why can't you mention it?"

Lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon has "a lot of silent support" in the ward, Anderson said. She has made "a great stride in the last month," Truesdale said.

Del. Walter E. Fauntroy angered people by declaring his candidacy while Mayor Marion Barry was out of town seeking addiction treatment. "There's a feeling he's getting bad advice because of the way he's conducting his campaign, attacking people," Truesdale said.

Although Fauntroy's support is thin, Anderson said, "he has people's ear" when he questions whether developers have bought Ray's allegiance with large campaign contributions.

Council Chairman David A. Clarke is widely regarded as basically "a good guy," several activists said. Even if he weren't "cantankerous," however, they say he can't win as a white candidate in a majority black town.

"I don't apologize for that, because we {blacks} have been in the same boat all our lives," Truesdale said. "He has said it: He's white and he can't change it. It's unfortunate, but it's life."

Many predict that law professor Eleanor Holmes Norton will top her rivals in Ward 4 in Tuesday's primary for the Democratic nomination for D.C. delegate.

"But a lot of us up here support Donald Temple," Anderson said. "A lot of us would really like a change and {Norton} is really regarded as old guard. She's been around a long time and is not really as local as she would like to contend she is."

At-large council member Betty Ann Kane, another candidate for the post, has caused a lot of resentment in the ward with what one observer called her "condescending attitude."

While former city official Joseph P. Yeldell is given little chance of winning, he is admired for the "willpower and commitment" he has lent to his campaign, Williams said.

Population (1988): 80,300

Blacks: 87 percent

Whites: 9 percent

Hispanics: 4 percent

Median Income (1986): $24,000

Registered Voters: 42,843

Democrats: 36,775

Republicans: 2,008