Frank Smith III doesn't really want to be mayor-president.
Paying more than $400 to qualify for this fall's mayoral race in East Baton Rouge Parish is more about the retiree and avid bowler sending a message to the high-profile candidates in the race.
"I want people to understand that things need to change," the 76-year-old says. "I'm not trying to be in that position when I turn 81. I don't have enough Geritol. (But) this city, literally, is physically dying. And the people that run it don't know how to run the multi-million dollar business that it is."
Smith, a Republican, isn't short of ideas regarding what he would do if he were elected mayor-president. Giving taxpayers adequate services tops the list, as well as donating his salary in an annual giveaway and investing more taxpayer money into cleaning streets and ditches, which he says is severely lacking.
"A clean city makes people feel good, that's where you begin," he said. "Then you'll have brand name companies coming in here providing high-dollar jobs."
Smith is up against incumbent Sharon Weston Broome and challengers Metro Council member Matt Watson, Baton Rouge attorney "E Eric" Guirard, businessman Jordan Piazza, current state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle and former state legislator Steve Carter. The status of an eighth candidate, Metro Council member Tara Wicker, is currently being decided by the courts.
Wicker is asking the state Supreme Court to consider an appeal of a 1st Circuit opinion that would throw her out of the race because of insufficient evidence that she had filed two years of state income tax prior to qualifying for the Nov. 3 election. The 1st Circuit ruling had reversed the decision by Judge Timothy Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District Court, who had ruled Wicker could remain in the race.
Of the all the candidates, Smith is by far the novice with no prior political experience, no money in his war chest and no intention of putting up campaign signs or handing out paraphernalia.
Baton Rouge political pollster Bernie Pinsonat says candidates like Smith rarely, if ever, move the needle in hotly contested races such as the one for mayor-president.
"This is something you run into with most major elections. People will put up the filing fee but they're not going to generate any intensity," Pinsonat said. "It's virtually impossible to become a major candidate when all you've paid is your entry fee and that's all you'll spend.
"We consider them candidates just running to have their name on the ballot," he added.
Smith is a military veteran who has lived in Baton Rouge most of the his life. He's retired, but manages a number of commercial properties and warehouses across the city-parish. When he was working every day, he helped his father manage a franchise of Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlors in three states. He even sold cars for 15 years.
The husband of 30 years to wife Diane now spends a lot of his time bowling at least four times a week with the senior leagues they belong to. He recently signed up to become a coach for a youth bowling league.
He admits to being an "average bowler" but a savvy businessman and passionate resident of the city-parish.
"I see government as a business. A business taking taxes and delivering services, but the services are sorely lacking," he says. "We need to clean this city up. When was the last time you seen a street sweeper? We got all these overgrown ditches, mold growing along sidewalks and curbs."
Smith gets frustrated by city-parish officials poor-mouthing whenever public concerns are raised about shoddy services.
He believes the city-parish's parks and recreation system, Council on Aging and library system are all over-funded, saying revenue from the voter-approved taxes that fund those agencies should be diverted elsewhere to improve services.
Smith said he would forgo his salary if he became mayor-president and instead put it in a trust fund at a local bank where he would ask parish businesses to donate, at minimum, $10 a month to the same fund.
"When we get enough money, we'd have a drawing open to all residents in the parish and give away things like trips to Disney World or tickets to LSU games for the public," he said. "I know this sounds crazy but I'd like to see us do it at a block party all down Third Street. I'm trying to bring everyone together."
Smith, who lives in the proposed city of St. George, also said the lawsuit seeking to block the incorporation, a lawsuit Broome has joined as a plaintiff, should be dropped.
St. George, in the southeast corner of the parish, would become the city-parish's fifth municipality. It's drawn criticism for being a predominately white, affluent movement seeking to establish a separate school district from the parish's, which is predominately black.
"I'm thinking, just let St. George go," he said. "Look at all the success Central and Zachary had when they formed their own school systems."