D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), who is being challenged by two political newcomers, appears to be coasting to election to a third term.
Yet Smith has many detractors in his ward, political observers say, particulary among people who live west of 16th Street NW in the ward's more affluent neighborhoods. His critics complain that Smith is an ineffective council member who does not deliver on constituent services.
Smith has a record of not "following through" when dealing with requests from residents for help with neighborhood problems, such as getting streets cleaned and trash picked up, said Stanley Allen, chairman of Ward 1 Democrats and a Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
"Many of us have experienced that if you want something done, you don't call Frank. You call someone else," Allen said.
He said a strong candidate in the Democratic primary would have beaten Smith this year.
Smith, 48, considered running for the D.C. delegate post or an at-large council seat, but agreed to run again in Ward 1 after leading Democrats there told him they had no one to replace him with, he said.
But across the ward, some activists say Smith stays aloof from neighborhood issues and, as leader of the D.C. Baseball Commission, is preoccupied with bringing a major league baseball team to Washington.
One common complaint is that Smith waits for residents to reach a consensus in neighborhood disputes rather than using his leadership to resolve conflicts.
As a result, ANC commissioners and a network of concerned citizens are filling the "leadership vacuum" and are playing a larger political role, said Terry Lynch, a housing activist in the ward who ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign for an at-large council seat.
"This informal network is keeping it together and waiting for a good alternative" candidate, Lynch said.
Jim Harvey, who worked as Smith's campaign manager four years ago, said the ward is "clearly divided" over Smith. He said many longtime residents remain loyal to Smith, but newcomers see that the city's problems are getting worse and don't have patience for Smith's "passive" style of leadership.
"Because of the anti-incumbent mood of the city, if there had been a real opposition candidate, Frank would have lost," Harvey said.
In the Democratic primary in September, Smith won with 62 percent of the vote, while challenger Richard M. Landis, a lawyer, received 38 percent -- double the percentage Landis received four years ago when he first ran against Smith.
Landis, who was outspent by Smith 8 to 1, carried five precincts in the west side of the ward, including the precinct where Smith lives.
"The votes were not for Richard Landis. They were against Frank Smith," Harvey said.
Smith said his roots in the ward "go deep and wide," but he acknowledged that some people are put off by his style of leadership. He said he focuses on key issues, such as finishing construction of Metro's long-awaited Green Line, rather than "putting out fires."
He said conflicts over liquor license and zoning applications belong to the ANCs. He only becomes involved, he said, when the problems become policy issues. At that point, he tries to get a law enacted, he said.
For example, inadequate parking is one of the big complaints in the ward, especially in Adams-Morgan, and Smith said he soon will submit legislation to extend residents-only parking limits in the ward until midnight.
Smith also defends his record on responding to constituent requests for help. In eight years, his office has handled 12,000 requests, he said.
Smith faces opposition on Nov. 6 from independent Joseph S. Person, a parent activist on school issues, and Republican Bobby Pittman, chairman of the public safety committee of the Sheridan-Kalorama ANC.
Pittman, 26, said people in the ward feel neglected by Smith, who he said is more concerned with citywide issues than the more mundane worries of residents, who want their neighborhoods to be clean and safe.
As a council member, Pittman said he would take his staff twice a month into a neighborhood and clean it up, picking up trash on vacant lots and sweeping streets.
"Young people see that and understand what civic pride and civic duty is," he said.
Person, 34, owner of The Crab King, a company that sells seafood from trucks in Maryland, criticizes Smith for spending too much of his time trying to bring a major league baseball team to Washington. Smith said a baseball team in Washington would bring jobs and prestige to the city. Person calls the idea "fantasy."
However, Person said he has his own plans for Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. If every one of the ward's 78,000 residents donated a dollar, he could rent out the stadium for a performer such as Frank Sinatra and generate $1 million in revenue that could be plowed back into the ward, he said.
Person said he would use the money to expand community centers, build affordable housing and establish a bus service linking the ward with Metro stations.
Dee Hunter, an ANC commissioner in Shaw, said Pittman and Person don't have the money or organization to run effective campaigns. "They don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of beating Frank Smith," he said.