Most students know Georgetown’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners as the people who shutdown late-night haven Philly Pizza. This incident shows that the ANC has wider powers than its “advisory” moniker might suggest, and their authority touches many aspects of student life. At the same time, however, the current composition of the commission undercuts the student voice.
Local law requires D.C. agencies to give ANC Commissioners’ opinions great weight. The ANC’s lobbying power was particularly apparent when their opposition to the 2000-2010 Campus Plan prompted the Board of Zoning Adjustment to cap Georgetown’s enrollment and force the University to publicly disclose information about student conduct—a move which a judge ruled illegal after four years of litigation.
But even though students account for a large portion of Georgetown’s population, they remain sorely underrepresented on the commission. The average ANC single-member district contains around 2,000 people. According to the University, there are 5,053 beds on campus, meaning that students should be allotted two commissioners. Yet only one of the seven commissioners on ANC 2E, Jake Sticka (COL ’13), is a Georgetown student. Furthermore, his district only includes New South, Alumni Square, and Villages A and C. The other on-campus residences are gerrymandered into no less than three different single-member districts.
Considering how much power the ANC has over the daily lives of Georgetown students, it is unfair that students are underrepresented in that body. Residents argue that because most students are not registered D.C. voters, they should not be allowed seats commensurate with their numbers. However, the federal census counts all residents, even non-citizens, for the purposes of representation. In fact, about 14 percent of the Georgetown ANC’s population is non-citizens, according to the American Community Survey. Georgetown students—most of whom are U.S. citizens and live, work, learn, and volunteer in this community—are at least as deserving of representation as diplomats and other non-citizens.
Gathering the 25 signatures necessary to declare a candidacy is difficult, as few students are registered to vote in D.C. However, two Hoyas won seats in the 1996 ANC election, a reminder that students have overcome this hurdle before.
Another argument residents could make is that there would not be enough student candidates to run in the ANC races. This is a fair point, but only because of the current understanding of what it means to serve as a commissioner. Students have been told that because of the way the two-year term, election cycle, and residency requirements work out, commissioners must live in D.C. for two summers and forgo studying abroad.
In reality, this is not necessarily the case. It is possible for a commissioner to retire before his term is over. If a commissioner vacates his seat more than six months before an election, the ANC must hold a special election in that single-member district within ninety days.
There are admittedly limits to this accommodation. Commissioners that retire early may leave their constituencies without representation for up to three months. This is not a loophole that potential commissioners should consider lightly, but it is acceptable to occasionally take this more fluid view of ANC terms in order to get a viable pool of candidates. The structure of ANCs is not necessarily inviting to student representatives, but it is critical that we receive adequate representation.
As unjust as this situation may be, it will continue as long as students fail to advocate for themselves. In the wake of the 2010 Census, students have an opportunity to set the record straight. Later this year, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D), who represents Georgetown along with a host of other neighborhoods, will appoint a task force of registered voters to redraw ANC boundaries. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) and At-Large Councilmembers David Catania (I) (SFS ’90, LAW ’94), Phil Mendelson (D), Michael A. Brown (I), and Sekou Biddle (D) may also appoint one member to each task force.
This task force will make its recommendations for the modification of ANC boundaries, including the breakdown of single-member districts, by mid-October. If students want to end the discriminatory gerrymandering in ANC 2E, they must register to vote in D.C. and ensure that the ward task force gives students the two seats on the ANC that they deserve.
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