DC’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners have a thankless but important job.  For no pay, they advise on thousands of neighborhood-level decisions a year: everything from whether or not that restaurant can serve liquor, to whether or not that building is going to meet the needs of the neighborhood.  You should consider running. If you’re elected, you’ll make a difference in your corner of town.

Photo by stu_spivack on Flickr.

DC is split into 299 single member districts (SMDs) organized into 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs).  By design, each SMD (which are supposed to encompass around 2,000 residents) elects one commissioner to represent their interests. ANCs meet regularly to decide on many community level decisions, including development decisions and permitting.

ANCs have a strangely powerful but also powerless role in DC politics and development.  They technically do not have political authority, and instead their opinions and resolutions are given a legal “great weight” that other DC agencies are supposed to (and most often do) respect and follow.

That being said, there are some areas where an ANC’s great weight is more influential than others.  In the development field, for example, any changes to current regulations must go through the ANC for public input, and because commissioners control these proceedings, they wield significant amounts of power.  Commissioners help to broker agreements, and moderate their forum as a place for public debate and negotiation.

ANC elections are non-partisan, and open to any DC resident who has lived in their neighborhood for at least 60 days before petitions are due.  It is relatively simple to get your name on the ballot: you only need to collect 25 signatures from your neighbors to qualify.  Because of the relative low visibility of these positions and elections, these races are decided by very small amounts of votes— 30 votes can sway an election.  In ANC races, every vote really counts.

What’s more, many races go uncontested, and some seats even stay vacant for lack of interest. 86 SMDs are currently uncontested, and in 153 districts, there is only one contender. That means if there is a lot of opportunity for neighborhood leaders to step forward.

Papers for potential candidates are current available to be picked up at the DC Board of Elections, and as of July 22nd,  642 DC residents have picked up petitions.

Map from DC Office of ANCs - click for a closer view.  Has someone picked up papers in your district?  Will you?

I imagine many in the Greater Greater Washington community would make excellent ANC commissioners.  But maybe you’re worried because you don’t feel qualified, or don’t have a clear picture of what the job looks like.

Here is some advice from fellow Greater Greater Washington readers who also happen to be ANC commissioners:

Daniel Warwick (2B02):

To anyone considering running for ANC:

Serving as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner is an unique and humbling experience.

It is an honor working with your neighbors to improve your community. Commissioners get to know the minutia of obscure liquor licensing, zoning, historic preservation, and public space regulations. More importantly, you get to know what’s happening where you live. Improving your neighborhood can mean supporting the first net-zero office redevelopment in the District of Columbia, encouraging the Public Space Committee to put pedestrians and bikes first, or working with an applicant to adapt their proposed development.

It’s very easy for a Commissioner to oppose everything. The typical job of an ANC is to be obstructionist, but a greater commissioner tries to say “Interesting idea—lets get some folks together and find something everyone can support.” Being an ANC Commissioner is a tough balance and is frustrating at times, but is one of the greatest honors I can imagine.

You should run.

Tom Quinn (3E04):

I can walk all over my SMD and point out new trees, crosswalks, parking signs, some scant bike infrastructure and CaBi stations, sidewalks, etc. All things that we had a role in getting installed, yet most people have no idea. But a lot of the things I’ve worked on have never borne fruit, so to not go crazy you have to accept from the start that a lot of ideas are not going anywhere and just hope that it feels rewarding.

We’ve gotten a lot done and I was driven to get involved in part because my predecessor expended all of her energy fighting development and no energy on positive change.  So to me it has been worth it.

Thinking about it?  Decide soon, your 25 signatures are due by August 10th.  Want to talk about it more?  Get in touch; I have some ideas for you - dwhitehead@ggwash.org.

 

David Whitehead is the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David works to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy and organizing. He lives in Edgewood.