Edward ‘Smitty’ Smith, former federal lawyer, joins D.C. attorney general race


D.C. native Edward ‘Smitty’ Smith, 34, says he has experience beyond his years. (Courtesy of Edward ‘Smitty’ Smith)

The field of D.C. attorney general candidates has grown to three: Edward H. “Smitty” Smith II, a 34-year-old former federal lawyer, is seeking to get on the ballot for the newly elected office.

Smith joins lawyer-candidates Mark H. Tuohey and Paul Zukerberg, both of whom are at least two decades older and have at least that much more legal experience. But Smith, a D.C. native whose father was a Ballou High physics teacher and whose mother is a retired federal employee, said he’s up to the job after graduating from Harvard Law School, working on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, and holding mid-level legal jobs in federal agencies.

“It’s not about how many years under your belt, but what have you done with those years?” Smith said Monday. “I don’t think about it as, can we get a lawyer with the longest history in practice? … One thing I’ve always learned in my career is, there is very little that can substitute for new eyes and a new perspective.”

Smith might be a political unknown, but he’s got D.C. bona fides, growing up in Congress Heights and LeDroit Park, later winning scholarships to local private schools (Beauvoir, Potomac School) and embarking on a career that took him from an associate job in corporate practice at Hogan & Hartson to the Obama campaign to the Commerce Department and, most recently, the Federal Communications Commission. Smith said he recently quit his job there, managing a team working on an auction of radio spectrum rights, to run for attorney general.

If elected, Smith said he would focus on the handling of juvenile justice cases — “blunt tools being used for microsurgery,” he called it — which is a subject, he said, that he has experienced personally through his family.

Smith also said he disagreed with how the sitting attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, handled recent litigation involving D.C. budget autonomy and a potential four-year delay of the first AG election. But Smith said he did not see himself as being at frequent odds with the mayor or D.C. Council: “This is not an adversarial role; this is a cooperative role. There are some people concerned about an adversarial attorney general. … I don’t think that at all aligns with what the office should be about.”

In terms of civic activism, Smith has been active with D.C. Vote and sits on the board of the We the People Project, a nonprofit devoted to increasing the civil rights of residents Americans living outside of the 50 states. The group is now involved in litigation over the citizenship rights of residents of American Samoa.

Otherwise, Smith is leaning heavily on his status as a native Washingtonian as he takes on better established foes like Zukerberg, who has gained notoriety for successfully fighting the election delay, and Tuohey, long a prominent member of the local political and legal establishment.

“This is where my roots are; this is where my family is,” Smith said. “D.C. is who I am.”

To that end, Smith kicks off his campaign Saturday at noon in front of the family’s former home at 232 Rhode Island Ave. NW.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · July 7