Students, alumni ease tension in neighborhood politics

The three newest members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission are all students, which locals say has helped diffuse historic tension with GW.

Relations between permanent residents and the University have been rocky over the years, as many neighbors have complained about campus expansion, student noise and trash. But local representatives say the elections last fall, which brought three students to the board, helped ease that animosity.

Graham Galka, an alumnus who joined the ANC when he graduated in 2008, said the students arranged for the group to hold a meeting last week in a GW classroom for the first time in years – a sign of the strengthened ties. The eight-member neighborhood group is one of 40 in the District, and advises city agencies on traffic, noise, construction and liquor laws.

“From the stories I’ve heard, there used to be a lot of reticence and displeasure at having students join the ANC,” Galka said. “I think this time around they’ve been welcomed with open arms.”

Juniors Patrick Kennedy and Jackson Carnes and sophomore Peter Sacco snagged spots on the local board last fall. Kennedy ousted David Lehrman, a 66-year-old who had served on the ANC for a decade, in November.

So far, the students have all written their own resolutions to present before the board, including ones about D.C. food truck regulations and the University’s new residence hall. During the about four months in their roles, they’ve gone to D.C. Council meetings, zoning meetings and Parent Teacher Association meetings at local schools.

“Some people in the neighborhood – because of the opposition with the administration – some people have felt that if we scheduled a meeting in a classroom at GW it might evolve into some of the commissioners thinking they owe something to GW, but it’s just a classroom,” Carnes said. “The relationship has gotten better, but there are still a lot of sore feelings.”

Kennedy is also a leader in the Foggy Bottom Association and the Student Association, a trajectory similar to that of alumnus Asher Corson, who is also an ANC commissioner. Corson also defeated an incumbent to become the group’s youngest member in 2006. Corson then became the first alumnus to chair the commission a year later.

Corson said Kennedy’s victory over an incumbent proved that permanent residents were willing to embrace a student as their representative.

“I think most community members see it as a positive,” Corson said. “If neighbors didn’t think he would do a better job than the incumbent, they wouldn’t have voted for him.”

A business administration and human services major, Sacco said he has tried to engage students, who make up the entirety of his district, with local issues through social media.

“I hope the student body and permanent residents are seeing that our interests are one as residents of Foggy Bottom whether you’re permanent or just a student,” Kennedy said. “I think the University often tries to deputize students as their foot soldiers in a lot of these zoning battles, but I think a critical examination of it really reveals that in a lot of these cases students and community members have more in common than they did at the start.”

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