As most students cast their ballots Tuesday, two seniors will stand outside D.C. polls making their pitch for local government.
Seniors James Harnett and Yannik Omictin launched bids to represent Ward 2 on the D.C. State Board of Education and the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, respectively. The candidates said they want to fight for access to equitable resources, like transportation, for their hopeful constituencies of D.C. Public Schools and the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
Here’s what you should know about the two candidates and their campaigns:
Candidate: James Harnett
Running for: D.C. State Board of Education
Harnett, who’s served on the Foggy Bottom and West End ANC since his sophomore year, became the youngest person to lead an ANC in D.C. history when he was selected chair in July. He said he hopes the policy plans he pushed for on the ANC, like new crosswalks and bike lanes, will translate to similar initiatives on the state board.
“I’ve been pouring all my time into this, and so have many of the members of our team,” Harnett said.
Harnett faces three opponents in the race, including Sarah Mehrotra, a data and policy analyst; Allister Chang, who works at a nonprofit incubator; and Christopher Etesse, who manages a cybersecurity company.
He said if elected, he hopes to improve technology and academic and financial resource distribution. Harnett said he’ll be a “champion” for students in DCPS and ensure students’ voices are heard by granting the state board’s student representative voting power.
“It’s time that we take that change to the other levels of government that for far too often and for far too long haven’t listened to student voices,” he said.
He said many of the people helping with his campaign don’t have full-time jobs, allowing the team to invest “every waking moment” into talking with voters. Harnett said the “biggest challenge” for his team – which includes parents, teachers, community leaders and students from DCPS and D.C. universities – is not being able to canvass door to door due to COVID-19 concerns, but Zoom events have offered an alternative.
“We’ve found other ways to connect directly with voters to listen to the priorities, but importantly, to share our vision and my values for what’s important and to allow voters to weigh that as they consider who they want to elect in November,” he said.
Harnett has joined recent protests with community members after city officials fired the School Without Walls principal last month for declining to open school amid air quality concerns in the school. The ANC, which Harnett is currently part of, approved a resolution demanding he be reinstated late last month.
He said he hopes to increase accountability in the District’s education system, as Mayor Muriel Bowser has tried advancing reopening plans despite pandemic-related health concerns. Harnett said new legislation must be passed to give the state board more “power” to confirm officials, like the deputy mayor for education, and advocate on behalf of students, families and teachers.
“It’s really important that for an education system to be successful, it requires checks and balances in government,” he said. “And the state board, I think, should serve an important check and balance on the mayor’s authority to make sure that we are pursuing that accountability and transparency.”
Candidate: Yannik Omictin
Running for: Foggy Bottom and West End ANC
Senior Yannik Omictin – the Student Association’s vice president for government relations who jump-started his write-in campaign for the ANC in September and is running unopposed – said campaigning as a student is “relatively easier to handle” during the pandemic because he has connected with voters via social media rather than through typical campaign events that can take more time.
But Omictin said campaigning online has challenged him with less in-person contact with voters, which he said feels less “genuine.”
“I would really love to be able to chat with folks on the street and do fora in Thurston or something and really meet folks who might be writing my name in, and so the most challenging thing is I think that just the lack of face-to-face voter contact and outreach – that feels more genuine,” he said.
Omictin said he’s hung posters, handed out campaign postcards, posted on social media and connected with community members around Foggy Bottom to promote his campaign, but he’s had to spearhead these efforts himself due to the limitations of the pandemic.
“It might not be as crazy here,” Omictin said. “But I think that we’re all very, very busy. If it’s not classes and work, just sort of mentally and emotionally, this time is very taxing. So, better to just sort of shoulder the weight.”
Omicitin said since deciding to run for the ANC, he has researched policy positions he supports, like reducing the costs of public transportation and increasing funds for public housing.
As more than half of the Foggy Bottom ANC’s districts represent student residence halls, Omictin said more students should run for the ANC and broaden representation with new perspectives in the neighborhood. Omictin said he was compelled to run for the commission after noticing the ANC’s several vacancies, as five commissioners have either already resigned or intend to step down at the end of the term.
“We really do benefit tremendously from that representation,” he said. “But the ANC also benefits tremendously from that representation because we bring new energy and new ideas, different ways of conceiving problems and in my view, with the right students, you bring a really strong moral compass, a really strong idea of what is just and what policy will really liberate people and which policies will just reinforce the same old system.”