John Kalish's "Washington: A City That Doesn't Care" {op-ed, Aug. 11} underscores a longstanding dilemma faced by every major urban center in America -- how to channel the spirit and resources of an entire community into a rising tide. He deserves thanks for reminding us all of how short we fall from the mark. And to his credit, he does not temporize with some of this great city's institutional and intellectual failings.

Kalish seems to imply that, other than the Redskins, whatever passes for success in this town does so pretty much in spite of the local community. In fact, he would have us believe that the reason is not that we're without heads -- but without hearts. There are many besides myself who should disagree with his conclusion.

The more careless -- and least caring -- part of his argument is in its portrayal of Washington as a city "mired in misery," which generally shrugs, rather than shrieks, at its inequities and injustices. To be sure we have our share of the poorest. But we also have some of the richest. More important, the vast number of Washingtonians are on sounder economic turf than those in any of the other top 10 markets.

We lead the nation in average household income. Among the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas, Washington has the highest percentage of women in the labor force and the lowest poverty rate among families. Employment and household income for black Washingtonians are also the country's highest. Only Boston has a lower unemployment rate among blacks.

Whether because of the presence of government or the expansion of the private sector, Washington's rising economic tide has lifted boats of every kind in recent years. Admittedly, the gap between haves and have-nots is widening here as elsewhere. But a city dominated by the poor we are not. And we ought to quit perpetuating that mind-set.

Washington does have a great abundance of brains, talent and powerful organization. Perhaps more than most cities. But surely the failure to perform consistently with its potential for solving community problems is not unique to Washington. That doesn't get us off the hook. But neither is it prima facie evidence of rampant apathy and a community with no soul.

I don't think those served by the Washington Urban League's employment efforts would agree with Kalish. Nor would the beneficiaries of Rev. Tom Knowles' Community Family Life program and the work of the Congressional Staffers for the Homeless. Or the 75 churches that put up the resources for SOME (So Others May Eat), the disadvantaged kids tended by FLOC (For the Love of Children), the Coalition for Financial Accountability that watches over the city's programs for the poor, and Father John Whalen's Consortium of Universities, which, among other things, teaches street law.

There are scores of other such organizations that work citywide. Hundreds more serve individual neighborhoods.

The D.C. government should also disagree with Kalish. The people served by Project Success, JOBS and the Tenants Assistance Program know the District Building has a heart. So do the 22,000 young people working right now in businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies under the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program.

Kalish is right when he suggests we need more consciousness-raising, better coordination of efforts and, possibly, a single forum to stir the firmament of ideas and spark action. And I agree that we desperately need a larger cadre of local leaders who can help deliver the goods.

Perhaps he has heard of Leadership Washington, a new program under the aegis of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Its purpose is to draw from that inventory of untapped talent he speaks of and equip them with some of the tools for community improvement. Acquainting people with local institutions, and the mechanisms and process of local government, is a first step toward broadening the base of those who understand and can help solve problems.

Leadership Washington isn't the whole answer. But the private sector cared enough to bring it about. -- R. Robert Linowes is a lawyer and businessman and president of Leadership Washington.