The possible election of D.C. School Board member Frank Smith Jr. to the City Council in November has created a scramble to succeed him and has raised the question of whether the board's current minority faction will be able to gain a new ally in his successor.
Smith, the school board's Ward 1 representative and the Democratic nominee for the ward's council seat, joined with R. David Hall (Ward 2), Wanda Washburn (Ward 3), Linda W. Cropp (Ward 4), Nathaniel Bush (Ward 7) and the Rev. David H. Eaton (At Large) to elect Eaton as board president and Bush as vice president last January.
The 11-member board's slim 6-to-5 vote for Eaton signaled the emergence of a board majority with closer ties to Mayor Marion Barry and resulted in more isolation of some other board members who were in office in 1979 during the school system's fractious teachers strike.
Board aspirants and their supporters have been jockeying for the support of board members for Smith's seat, anticipating that the preponderance of Democrats in Ward 1 will win him the council seat on Nov. 2.
The prospective vacancy could give members of a four-member minority faction -- Barbara Lett Simmons (At large), Bettie Benjamin (Ward 5), John E. Warren (Ward 6) and R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) -- the chance to gain another ally in Smith's replacement.
The remaining member of the board, Eugene Kinlow (At large), has been a swing vote, siding with the majority or the minority at times.
With the six-member majority, the board has been consistently supportive of the school system's administration. Members of the majority say the board has fared better in receiving funding from Barry and that its image has improved, although the majority fell apart earlier this year during debate over possible school closings.
"The selection of Smith's replacement is very important. Frank Smith is part of a working majority on the board," said Cropp in a recent interview.
Smith was more emphatic, saying, "I am a strong supporter of the current school board leadership. It would be sad to discover we are going back to the old days of chaos, confusion and infamy."
George H. Margolies, legal counsel for the D.C. schools, said the board likely would appoint an applicant for the seat by a majority vote to fill the rest of Smith's term, which expires Dec. 31, 1983.
But in the most recent case of a board vacancy, when at-large member Betty Ann Kane was elected to the City Council, the board members decided they did not want to appoint her successor and requested and received emergency legislation for a special election. That election, in May 1979, was won by Kinlow.
Simmons argued recently that the board once again should choose a new member by election rather than by appointment. She suggested that if the proposed statehood constitution passes in the Nov. 2 balloting, there likely will be a special election in the spring to choose the city's prospective representatives in Congress. A replacement for Smith could be chosen then, she said.
"I personally believe in the electoral process. I don't look forward to having six members of the board select a member for Ward 1," Simmons said. "The faction that Smith has been a member of is in need of wooing one more member."
A number of well-known persons are being mentioned as possible successors to Smith in the ward, which stretches from the stately homes of Connecticut Avenue to the crime-ridden 14th Street corridor.
One observer close to Ward 1 politics said that the board's leadership wants to select someone supportive of Eaton who has the desire and the electoral pull to win election after serving out Smith's term. Some observers have indicated that Barry might support Edna Frazier-Cromwell, leader of the 14th and U Street Coalition, for the seat, but Barry press secretary Annette Samuels said the mayor would not involve himself in the selection.
Another name mentioned often is Marie S. Nahikian, defeated by Smith in the Ward 1 City Council primary. Nahikian, a delegate to the D.C. constitutional convention and a former Barry appointee to the city's housing department, said that "a number of people across the ward have approached me about being willing to serve, but I have not made any definite decision on whether I want the seat or not."
Manuel Lopez, who finished a strong third in a 17-candidate race for the two at-large board seats won by Eaton and Simmons in the 1981 election, has approached board members to say he is interested in the seat, according to Cropp.
Anwar Saleem, chairman of the Ward 1 Democrats and a diesel mechanic for Metro, has also been lobbying board members, sources said. Saleem failed to win the board seat in 1978.
Jonas Milton, a former federal policy analyst who finished 15th in the 1981 at-large school board race, also has been mentioned.
Smith said he has pledged to support whatever replacement his election committee chooses, but mentioned former civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot as a close personal friend who deserves consideration.
"I'm looking for someone who will protect the interests of the people in Ward 1 and can be a part of the continuing progress of the board that started last January," said board member Hall.
Within the Ward 1 community, there is some disgruntlement over a common fact of Washington politics: that the school board has been a springboard to the City Council and even the mayor's office.
"We have been cheated in the past," said Laura Jackson, president of the Cardozo High School Parent Teachers Association. "The question I want to ask of any candidate is, are you going to use this as a stepping stone for higher office or are you totally concerned about the education of our students?"