Sophomore to run uncontested for seat on neighborhood commission

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

James Harnett, who is double majoring in computer science and political science, is campaigning for a position on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

A month after a local neighborhood commission lost a student member to graduation, one sophomore is looking fill the spot.

James Harnett, who is double majoring in computer science and political science, is campaigning for a position on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission on a platform that includes making students more aware of the ANC, adding another H Street crosswalk and creating channels of communication between student commissioners from across the District.

“There are a lot of very unique challenges that the ANC faces in a very student-heavy area like Foggy Bottom,” he said. “That presents a lot of great tools and opportunities to allow students to engage in their government and advocate for or against policies that are not only being considered by the ANC but also the D.C. government at large.”

Harnett said the ANC is not widely known on campus, even among student leaders, and that students often are excited when they find out what the commission can accomplish.

“I want to remind people about the power they have to advocate here on campus and throughout D.C.,” he said. “I want more people to understand what their tools are to advocate for things that they want in their community.”

In recent months, the commission has debated a proposed helipad on the roof of GW Hospital and helped push for a plan for a new program at the Thaddeus Stevens School.

Harnett said he would try to make the campus community more aware of the ANC by hosting community office hours where anyone can discuss neighborhood issues.

“I want to make myself available so that people will feel like they have a connection with the person who is representing them,” he said. “Right now if you go to an ANC meeting you’ll see more student reporters there than you will students. But that’s also incumbent on the commissioners to be better communicators and do more outreach to the community.”

He added that he would also ask leaders of student organizations to publicize the ANC to their members as a first step toward increasing participation. He said he eventually wants to establish a mailing list and social media presence so students can become knowledgeable of the ANC agenda.

“People can prepare to advocate for or against proposals that are brought to our attention,” Harnett said.

Harnett also wants to bridge relationships across all student commissioners in the District to share tips on how to engage students on campus.

“If there are issues that students on some campuses care about that students on other campuses would also care about, we can share those ideas,” he said. “That’s a communication channel that hasn’t been as active as it could be and something I want to foster going forward.”

Harnett said that he wants to focus on building a new crosswalk on H Street because many students have complained to him about near-collisions with fast driving cars while crossing the highly trafficked area between Kogan Plaza and District House.

“It’s a campus safety issue,” he said. “Because of the food trucks you can’t look around the corner when you’re crossing the street.”

The crosswalk was originally proposed in 2006 as part of a safety plan after a car struck a student crossing H Street. Eve Zhurbinskiy – a former ANC commissioner who stepped down last month – proposed a new resolution for the crosswalk last February.

Harnett is seeking to replace Zhurbinskiy on the commission.

Potential commissioners have to collect at least 25 signatures from registered D.C. voters. If the spot is uncontested, Harnett will assume the seat once his signatures are verified, which will likely be in time for the commission’s February meeting, he said.

He is not campaigning for the commissioner seat because he said he prefers in-person conversations with community members rather than hanging posters or using social media.

“I always feel that conversations are the best way to learn about what people are passionate about and see how the issues that they care about – I can help drive forward,” he said.

ANC Chairman Patrick Kennedy said Harnett seems well-qualified and eager, the two primary qualifying factors for the student commissioner seat.

“He seems very enthusiastic about the role and enthusiastic about serving the community,” he said. “We obviously need someone to represent students now that Eve has stepped aside, so I welcome his enthusiasm for the position that’s been expressed over a fair period of time.”

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