William Kennedy Smith mounts first political run — for D.C. neighborhood board

William Kennedy Smith, who counts among his uncles two senators and a president, is going into the family business — in the political equivalent of the mailroom.

William K. Smith is one of two names that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat 2A04, representing a sliver of Washington’s Foggy Bottom area that includes the Watergate complex and, yes, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Smith, a 53-year-old physician who lives in the Watergate West building and runs a medical software company, confirmed Wednesday what is his first run for public office but said he does not have a political career in mind.

“I think of it as service,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different things internationally, and I’ve been involved in grass-roots activities in a lot of different capacities. . . . I just felt it was a good thing to do.”

Smith came to national attention more than two decades ago after being accused of raping a woman in Palm Beach, Fla., when he was 30.


“I’ve done a lot of different things internationally, and I’ve been involved in grass-roots activities in a lot of different capacities,” William Kennedy Smith says. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

He was acquitted in December 1991 of sexual battery and battery after an eight-month prosecution and two-week trial that garnered intense national attention.

After the trial concluded, Smith continued with his medical residency and later founded and ran a nonprofit organization devoted to helping individuals in foreign countries with disabilities.

Smith, who married in 2011 not long after moving to the District, is the son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the youngest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and sister to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

Should Smith win, he would hardly be a heartbeat from the presidency — or any other position of prominence.

Advisory neighborhood commissions represent the lowest level of District government, consisting of unpaid members who weigh in on such hyperlocal issues as liquor licenses, zoning petitions and street projects. Votes taken by ANCs are, as their name suggests, purely advisory in most cases, but city agencies are required to give “great weight” to their recommendations.

Smith said he was encouraged to run by two current commissioners, including the retiring commissioner whose seat he is hoping to assume.

His first experience with neighborhood activism, he said, came in negotiating with the owners of the soon-to-be-renovated Watergate Hotel over a liquor license application.

Armando Irizarry, the outgoing commissioner, said he was impressed by Smith’s dealings with the liquor license.

“He was very responsible, very good to work with, very level-headed,” he said. “I’m happy to support him.”

Smith is facing Thomas B. Martin, a 39-year-old lawyer who has lived in Foggy Bottom for more than a decade. Martin said he learned about his opponent while circulating ballot petitions in his apartment building.

A neighbor asked him if he had met the competition, Martin said. “She said his name, and I just paused for a moment, and I said, ‘Kennedy, Kennedy?’ ”

Martin, who said he is running to focus on improvements at the neighborhood public school his two children attend, declined to say whether Smith’s past should be an issue in the race.

“I think that’s a question that he has to answer for voters,” he said. “It’s not really for me to answer. I’m in this race to talk about the issues.”

Irizarry said he has never discussed the 1991 trial with Smith but said he was familiar with the case: “If I had any doubts then or had any doubts now, I would not be supporting him.”

Given the local nature of the race, Smith said he was not concerned his past might become a campaign issue.

“I’ll be out talking to people, and I hope people will get to know me and understand who I am as a person,” he said. “I’m doing this because I feel it’s a good thing to do. People can make their own judgments.”

Wesley Robinson contributed to this report.

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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