In the only contested race in the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission election, international entrepreneur and community leader Elena Son is attempting to unseat current chairman William Kennedy Smith in district 2A04.
Son said she is focused on finding ways for the community to cohesively solve issues like personal safety and homelessness. Smith, who has served on the commission since 2015 and was elected chairman in January, said he aims to continue improving constituent services like housing, infrastructure and transportation, and building and restaurant licensing issues.
Son, 45, said she has lived in Foggy Bottom since 2011 and served as the commissioner for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Commission for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs from July 2017 to September 2018. She said she is now a board member at the Potomac Plaza Terraces, where she connects residences in her apartment building and representatives from the mayor’s office and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Smith has worked with constituent services, like the Office of the People’s Counsel on Operation Pipes, which aims to replace gas infrastructure that has disrupted houses in the historic district. Smith has also collaborated with other ANCs by organizing town halls to address transportation concerns, like dockless bikes and traffic congestion.
Where the candidates’ views split
Son said she wants to hold ANC meetings in local apartment buildings to engage more residents in the commission. Residents have busy schedules, which can make committing time to attend ANC meetings difficult, but increasing direct communication with residents will help engage constituents in neighborhood issues, she said.
She added that holding meetings in different places throughout the neighborhood could boost participation.
“Being closer to the public and representing the public and being in their space rather than somewhere else is the best way to communicate and to mobilize the community and make it as one single unit rather than different buildings,” Son said.
Smith said he tries to keep meetings short and their locations consistent – since last year, the meetings have typically been held at the West End Library – which he said increases residents’ involvement in the ANC. He said residents have suggested moving the meetings regularly, but having inconsistent meeting places can become confusing.
Smith said the ANC needs to find better ways to communicate with residents, like using listervs and postings in buildings instead of relying on the Foggy Bottom Current – a local newspaper – to communicate with residents. He said listervs help young people become engaged but may exclude older residents, so posting ANC information in apartment buildings would help include everyone.
The candidates’ common thread
Son said rats pose health hazards to the community, and the ANC must work with the University and GW Hospital to ensure that students and hospital attendees dispose of trash correctly. She said the ANC needs to create an awareness campaign and work with the Milken Institute School of Public Health to help engage students on this issue.
“There are issues that we need to discuss not only with our residents, with the neighbors, but also with our critical players such as GW, GW Hospital and the farmers market,” she said.
The ANC unanimously passed a resolution called “Not in My Neighborhood” in September, which aims to increase community engagement regarding rat infestations by organizing a day for residents to engage in activities to get rats off the streets.
Smith said that to control the rat infestation in the neighborhood, residents need to work together to cut off their food supply, which is usually garbage.
Smith said he works on a project called “Citizen Enforcement” that will sponsor a “Not in My Neighborhood” day, where residents will collaborate with the ANC to hold companies accountable for increasing rat infestation in the neighborhood.
“The program allows any citizen in our ANC to photograph these commercial dumpsters and based on that photograph and a timestamp and a statement, a ticket will be issued by the Department of Health and that ticket will be presented to that establishment,” Smith said.
Working with the University
Son said students should be involved with the ANC because they make up a large part of the neighborhood’s population. She said she wants to work with Kevin Michael Days, GW’s director of community relations, to organize events and meetings aimed at making students’ voices heard.
“I would like them to be more engaged and even if they do not reside here, but just work and study, we do still want them to be part of the community and come and discuss issues with us,” Son said.
Smith said the University is well engaged with the ANC because one of the commissioners, James Harnett, is also a junior at GW. Harnett spearheaded an ANC town hall held in the Marvin Center last month that was geared toward increasing student involvement.
“What makes for a good ANC is collaboration – everybody plays to their strengths,” Smith said. “We have some people on our ANC who are very strong both in terms of their voices as students and their ability to reach out to students.”