When it comes to city council races, there seem to be two kinds of losers. There are perennial losers who refuse to take "no" for an answer (Susan Harmon, Stan Lippmann, Bob Hegamin), netting anything from 8,000 to 20,000 votes, losing in the primary, and returning two years later to lose again. And there are the lost losers, candidates who disappear after one unsuccessful run, like Thomas Goldstein or Andrew Scully. The common denominator between these types, of course, is that after elections there's an "L" stamped prominently on all of their foreheads. The Stan Lippmanns of the world wear the "L" as an anti-establishment badge of honor, returning at election time to flaunt it as evidence of an unjust system. The Goldsteins of the world simply disappear back to their law offices, environmental groups, or personalized home pages.

This year, however, one loser seems to have defied the "L" stamp and come out with a "W" on his forehead: Darryl Smith. Indeed, the 41-year-old Columbia City activist who lost big in the Judy Nicastro primary (placing fifth with just 11 percent, while a gaggle of other challengers battled for the number two spot) seems to be on the tip of everybody's tongue as the one to watch.

"He impressed a lot of inside players that had no idea who this guy from Columbia City was before the election," says political consultant Christian Sinderman, who worked on Smith's primary campaign. It's true. After the election, Smith quickly nabbed a board appointment with Allied Arts of Seattle, a high-profile armchair advocacy group that's pushing to replace the viaduct with a cut-and-cover tunnel. "Darryl was a great match," says Allied Arts President David Yeaworth. "He's a strong community leader." Smith is also being talked about by city council transportation chair Richard Conlin's office as the city's pick to chair the new Citizen's Transportation Advisory Council.

"I'm staying involved. I'm staying visible," says Smith, who has already committed himself to running again in 2004. He's hoping for an open seat on the council. (The natural there would be if the council's only black member, Richard McIver, chose not to run.) Smith, in fact, says he's already had two well-known political consultants in town tell him they'd like to work with him. Smith plans to stick with Sinderman, though, who jokes that he'd work for Smith pro bono.

Why is Smith so popular with Seattle's kingmakers? Easy: Smith is the classiest candidate to come along in years--earnestly civic without being naive; plainspoken without being dogmatic; and passionate without being overbearing. "He was eloquent, and he had something to say," says Dian Ferguson, chair of the South End's 37th District Democrats. "His message about access to affordable housing spoke to the community. I think we'll hear from him again." (Something else that doesn't hurt: Smith's a black guy in a city of guilty white liberals.)

Ferguson says the 37th urged Smith to run against Jim Compton rather than against Nicastro because the South End Dems saw more of a contrast between Smith and Compton than between Smith and a low-income housing advocate like Nicastro. "I think that would have been a real race," Ferguson says. "It would have been a no-brainer to give Smith money over Compton, but I'd already pledged to give Nicastro money."

This addresses a nagging question about Smith. If he isn't just another loser, why did he lose so badly in the primary? Simple: money. Low-profile candidates need dough to get their names out--or at least built-in name recognition like that of former Times columnist Jean Godden, who made it through the primary with 20,000 votes. Smith got just 13,000 votes. Sinderman jokes that all 13,000 votes were probably the same 13,000 folks that Smith met personally on the campaign trail. "He didn't raise money," Sinderman says bluntly. "He needs to go to fundraising school." Smith only raised $43,000 compared to primary contenders Kollin Min ($135,000) and Robert Rosencrantz ($124,000).

Smith, however, has already turned this into a campaign sound bite. "Min raised nearly $100,000 more than me and only beat me by 6,000 votes," Smith says. "I'm going to run again."