D.C. should allow vacant ANC seats to be filled during pandemic

The District is dotted with 328 single-member districts. Every two years, the voters in each district elect a representative to the 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that make up each of D.C.’s eight wards. These commissions, consisting of eight commissioners from each tiny district, lobby the city government on behalf of their constituents, work with business leaders to develop neighborhood-friendly operating plans and aim to preserve the city’s history amid rapid development. They are both small and unheard of, but they are critically important.

But the single-member district governing much of campus – ANC 2A08 – is vacant right now, leaving GW students and residents without a voice. And, because of an obscure rule, the seat cannot legally be filled during the current public health crisis. As members of the D.C. and the GW communities, our role is twofold: We must educate ourselves and each other about the function and role of ANCs in our city, and we must advocate for the the District to allow for a representative to be voted in during the pandemic.

I wouldn’t blame anyone for not knowing about the ANCs. Had I not been employed by an ANC adjacent to 2A, I probably would not either. Their work and role are of interest largely to other government officials, businesspeople and local government nerds like myself. But they are essential – commissioners help decide on zoning issues, the operating policies of businesses like restaurants and bars and the location and size of crosswalks and bike lanes. For example, GW was previously represented by alumnus James Harnett, who called for D.C. to install cross walks and bike lanes. Any student walking along G Street or riding a bike through campus can see this concrete example of what the ANC can do.

ANCs are the most direct link to the city’s vast bureaucracy. As students, we are uniquely lucky to live in a district that assures another student representative in the commission. This gives our student body the power to impact the goings-on of the rest of the District. We must recognize that we currently lack that representative, and then we must work to change it.

Given the uncertain nature of the pandemic, it’s unclear when the current vacancy can be filled. Truthfully, any vacancy is too long, especially one that represents students who have unique needs and living conditions. But working to roll back the rule preventing vacancies from being filled during the pandemic stands to benefit people far beyond campus. There are vacancies across the city, notably in the district containing the D.C. Jail, meaning our currently incarcerated community members are also denied a voice in the city. Advocating for Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto and the Board of Elections to fill vacancies during the pandemic is the right thing to do for us as students and for our community.

To work to repeal this rule, students could contact Pinto and stress the importance of our representation. Students can also reach out and contact the other ANC representatives, in the hopes that they will also see the importance of representation. Not only is it our right to be represented as D.C. citizens, but this advocacy would mean that other more marginalized members of our community can also gain representation. Having residents of the D.C. Jail represented during a pandemic that has ravaged incarcerated communities could be a lifesaver. For our campus specifically, the need for representation during a period of unrest that has impacted daily operations and the continuing pandemic is compounded by our status as students. A student representative on the ANC would allow students to advocate for progressive policies like defunding the police, ending mass incarceration, helping those experiencing homelessness and pushing for D.C. statehood. We should still have that progressive voice in office even if many students are homebound.

The vacancy in 2A08 does a disservice to the city and does an injustice to the students who are entitled to be represented by one of our own. As students, we must educate ourselves on the importance of this issue and push the D.C. government to allow us to vote in a representative.

Jack Murphy, a senior majoring in philosophy, is a columnist.

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