Jim Kalish, an independent who is running for the Ward 3 seat on the D.C. Council, carries a broom to political events as a symbol of the clean sweep he says government needs.

He says the incumbent, Democrat Jim Nathanson, is part of an "old guard" of politicians who are responsible for many of the city's ills. He says those politicians joined with power brokers in a "plan" that has unraveled and left a municipal mess.

Even with his zeal for change, neighborhood activists and political observers say, Kalish, a newsletter publisher, has little chance of defeating Nathanson.

As he completes his first term, Nathanson, 57, a lawyer and former history and government teacher, has the support of his predecessor, Democrat Polly Shackleton, and has gained the respect of voters in many corners of the predominantly white, well-to-do ward west of Rock Creek Park.

He is widely regarded as a whiz at constituent services, and has racked up a fairly respectable legislative record for a newcomer who hasn't had the advantage of a committee chairmanship, according to some observers.

Joel Odum, who heads a Ward 3 neighborhood preservation group that lists 1,500 members, said Kalish will have a hard time getting anywhere with his call for change.

"He's for better government, things everybody's for, but he's not nuts-and-bolts," Odum said. "People want to know, 'What have you done for me lately? Where were you in the trenches, like picketing against development or getting a stop sign put here?' "

Nathanson's critics say that he has concentrated on issues that are viewed as trivial. Some say he is too nice a guy for the back-room brawling they believe is required to properly represent the ward in the District Building and around the city. Some have also criticized him for not opposing a council-adopted resolution honoring the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan.

Julie Finley, a Republican who has been a volunteer and board member for various area schools, hospitals and charities, is also in the race. Some ward handicappers say her support will be limited to a few loyal Republicans, but others point to the success Republican mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz had in the ward in 1986 and say Finley has a chance to make a respectable showing.

Nathanson and Finley are running unopposed in the Sept. 11 Democratic and Republican primaries. As an independent, Kalish bypasses the primary and will appear on the November general election ballot.

The problem facing the two challengers is that there are no burning issues in Ward 3 this year. Development has always been a concern, but after the uproar during the last council race over the development of a large theater and commercial complex at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW, many ward residents now feel they have made their concerns known.

Many residents say taxes are too high, but they are also appreciative of recent cuts in real estate rates that occurred on Nathanson's watch, and they are mindful of the city's budget problems.

Finley, 53, says that government corruption has turned Washington into "a national embarrassment," and promises voters to deliver their "money's worth" for the high taxes they pay. She says that Nathanson is not "ahead of the curve," anticipating constituent concerns instead of merely reacting to them.

Kalish, 55, who publishes a local newsletter of opinion, accuses Nathanson, Shackleton and other entrenched politicians of having made a deal with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry to share the city's spoils.

"I think he's flipped," said Nathanson. "Jim Kalish is a utopian flake who hasn't hit earth and doesn't understand the real world."

Kalish hasn't raised much money, and has not yet touched base with many ward residents, but he has on his team such respected and well-known area residents as former Republican school board member Wanda Washburn and Sam Smith, editor of the Progressive Review and a community activist.

Nathanson says he expects the campaign to be a referendum on his record. The so-called Farrakhan resolution "will be an issue, but not a problem," he predicted.

The resolution, which recognized the Nation of Islam's anti-drug work in two Washington housing projects, contained a clause praising Farrakhan for inspiring his followers in their work. A single "no" vote would have killed the measure. Nathanson said he voted "present" because "I didn't think it was appropriate for white Ward 3 to deny a thank-you to the Dopebusters for what they've done . . . . My vote of present . . . was a vote of opposition."

"The explanation that he gave satisfied a lot of people," said Edward R. Levin, a lawyer who lives in Ward 3 and heads the D.C. and Maryland governing board of the Anti-Defamation League. The incident "won't affect how people vote," he said.

Nathanson vigorously denies charges that his legislative re'sume' -- which includes the so-called Domino Pizza bill and a truck-cover bill -- is trivial.

"I'm proud of the fact that I put covers on trucks," he said, adding that people have died after being struck by debris falling off moving trucks. His pizza bill applied regulations to fast-food delivery services.

He also points to seemingly weightier measures such his health-care decision act, which enables patients to designate someone to make decisions for them should they become incapacitated.

As of early June, Nathanson reported having raised nearly $47,000 in campaign funds; Kalish had raised $4,160. Finley had not yet filed with the Office of Campaign Finance.