Justin Peligri: The dull reality of Foggy Bottom politics

With fewer than three months until Election Day, Patrick Kennedy feels like an underdog.

The Florida native and junior hopes to unseat five-term incumbent David Lehrman on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

But here’s the bottom line: While students may like politics, few of them are genuinely invested in the politics of Foggy Bottom.

If Kennedy wants to help improve the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, he should focus his time on getting more involved on campus, where he can directly lobby for his fellow students.

Among the ANC’s responsibilities are: regulating traffic laws, allotting recreational facilities, advocating for adequate police protection and other small, strictly community related enterprises. That work may be important, but it is not necessarily relevant to the college-aged Washingtonian.

After all, most students are, by nature, merely temporary residents of Foggy Bottom. Our time here is significant, but fleeting.

And yes, many students elect to make the District their permanent home after graduation, but let’s be honest: Don’t full-time students have more pressing things to think about than noise ordinances and parking rules? When it comes to neighborhood concerns, students should relinquish authority to those who aren’t working to juggle classes, student organizations and internships.

There are at least 84,000 college students living in the District, according to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area’s website.

But students hold only two of the 276 seats of the 40 ANCs across the city, according to an op-ed published in The Hatchet in Feb. 2012. There’s a reason that students seldom campaign for and get elected to these positions: the commission simply doesn’t represent their needs.

Kennedy views the ANC as a way to engage the student body in local affairs. He argues that “students’ best interests are served when they’re more proportionately represented.” That’s an admirable intention, and I agree with the premise.

But to be blunt, students are not the best people to serve as representatives for an organization that focuses on a non-student population.

Even Lehrman, 65, who has served on the commission for the past 10 years, admits the issues the ANC deals with are far from “sexy,” he said in an interview.

Is an undergraduate the best candidate to lobby for stricter liquor licenses? Do students really care if garbage pickup is moved from Sundays to Tuesdays? I don’t think so.

But what Lehrman said about Kennedy is telling: “If he wins, he’s going to have a miserable time in that job.”

As college students, we have a lot of distractions. Our school work and our social calendars block out the majority of the empty space on our iCals and schedule books. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that positions on the ANC are not filled with students, but rather by people who are sure to stay in Foggy Bottom.

Patrick, you deserve much admiration and praise for wanting to get involved in our community. We need more passionate leaders who are willing to sacrifice time that could be spent studying to work as public servants.

But if you are just looking for some thrilling way to engage students and the community at large, the ANC probably isn’t the organization for you.

Justin Peligri, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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