The nephew of a U.S. president didn’t plan to get into politics, until the residents in his neighborhood asked him.
But now that he won a seat on a local neighborhood board, he’s using his last name to bring expansion plans to the Kennedy Center, which was named after his uncle.
Among William Kennedy Smith’s plans for the next two years as a member of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, he wants to focus on making sure the expansion plans earn a seal of approval with the input of Foggy Bottom neighbors. The theater complex’s plans include building an outside terrace over the Potomac River and expanding the pavilion.
Smith participated in his first ANC meeting as commissioner Wednesday. He introduced the vice president of the Kennedy Center, who addressed neighborhood concerns about the project.
“We should hear those comments,” Kennedy said at the meeting. “We commend the Kennedy Center for actively seeking input.”
Smith, who lives in the Watergate complex, got his first taste of local politics when he led a group of neighbors who were worried that an increase in restaurants with liquor licenses would create too much noise near their homes. Smith went to the board to voice their concerns.
The son of Jean Kennedy Smith and nephew of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy, Smith said his choice to run for a spot on the ANC came after he was approached by two commissioners, Florence Harmon and Rebecca Coder.
“I grew up with the idea that public service was a good thing to do,” Smith said. “The most exciting thing about this opportunity was that it is local, and that it was really about politics at its most basic – going out and meeting people and knocking on doors and getting to know a very interesting area.”
One of Smith’s first experiences with local outreach was attending community Christmas parties with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Redevelopment Corporation, an organization founded by his father and uncle, Robert, to aid the residents of his Brooklyn community.
“Some of my fondest memories were those parties with my cousins and the members of the the community,” Smith said. “It served as a model to me. It showed me the importance and impact making change in your community could have.”
He beat his opponent, local lawyer Thomas Martin, 257 votes to 196, according to the D.C Board of Elections.
Commissioner Armando Irizarry, who did not seek re-election, also encouraged Smith to run after he worked with the ANC on issues regarding the restaurants near the Watergate. Neighbors pushed back the opening of the Watergate hotel by at least a year after they complained about the potential noise.
“The goal of a ANC commissioner is to look out for the quality of life for the residents of the neighborhood they represent, and that is what he is committed to do,” Irizarry said.
Patrick Kennedy, the chairman of the ANC, said he also noticed how well Smith worked with the board during talks about the hotel.
“During Smith’s experience with the Watergate hotel, he was very even keeled in that process,” Kennedy said. “If that serves as a template for how he will work as a commissioner, then the neighborhood will be very well served.”
Kennedy said he was impressed by his ability to find a compromise, and plans to look to him to help mediate when controversial issues come up in the ANC, like other liquor license disputes.
As well as improving funding for Miriam’s Kitchen, a local organization that supports the homeless, Smith said he’d work with neighbors who are impacted by late-night noises after the ANC passed a resolution last week to ask the University to use staff members to patrol off-campus areas and stop loud student parties.
“The issue is how well the students fit in as neighbors, and the answer is very well, by and large,” Smith said. “But there are noises, which are an issue, especially if you have a historic district in which houses are closer together, and people are living on top of each other, and many of those are rental houses, where people have events going on.”