The nation's capital may not have the best schools, or the best commutes, or the best nightlife -- but it does have the best flag, according to one recent survey.

The District's red-and-white, stars-and-bars flag was rated No. 1 in a poll sponsored by a group of flag enthusiasts, the North American Vexillological Association.

The group asked its 450 members and the public to vote for the best among 150 U.S. city flags, using a bad-to-great scale of zero to 10. The District flag's average score was 9.17, beating out nearby rivals Richmond, which ranked 15th at 7.76 points, Baltimore, which came in at 18th with 7.64, and Annapolis, 28th at 5.39.

"Wow, that's a nice compliment," said Chris Bender, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "There's a very powerful argument that the most powerful and poignant icons are the simple ones."

Nearly 500 people participated in the survey on the association's Web site from May to September, with the results announced at the group's annual meeting this month. The survey was not widely publicized outside flag-buff circles because the association wanted opinions based on the design of the flag rather than the residence of the voter.

Ted Kaye, 49, of Portland, Ore., editor of the group's journal and the survey coordinator, said the D.C. flag scored high because it follows principles of good flag design.

"It is simple, and we define simple as being a design that a child can draw from memory," Kaye said yesterday. "It uses meaningful symbolism. The design of the flag is derived from George Washington's family's coat of arms. It uses two colors, red and white. There is no lettering or seal on it, and it is distinctive."

The vote for the worst flag went to Pocatello, Idaho, an old railroad town with a population of 51,009. "It works for us," said an unbothered Mayor Roger Chase.

Kaye, the author of "Good Flag, Bad Flag," said Pocatello likely lost points for having its chamber of commerce logo ("Proud to Be Pocatello" below purple mountains) on its flag.

Flag buffs do not look kindly upon lettering and seals. In 2002, the D.C. Council authorized the addition of the slogan "No Taxation Without Representation" to the flag. But a bill to adopt a proposed redesign that includes the slogan has stalled on the council.

Kaye said the slogan would have earned the District a lower ranking. "None of the top 20 flags has lettering or a seal," Kaye said. "Flags are not billboards."

The D.C. flag won for simplicity and symbolism.Pocatello's purple mountains and proud declaration won it last place.