Posts by Matt Rumsey
|Matt Rumsey moved to D.C in 2005 to pursue a degree in History at American University. Originally from Connecticut, he has had no intention of leaving D.C. since he moved to Columbia Heights in the summer of 2008. He now lives in Ward 5. He currently works at The Sunlight Foundation. Views here are his own.|
Want to find out who is trying to influence the way the DC Council or Mayor's office approach important issues facing the city? Good luck. Important information about lobbyists' activities just isn't available when needed or is hard to find.
DC's lobbying disclosure and reporting requirements need reform, as WAMU's Patrick Madden recently illustrated. The law does not require reports from lobbyists often enough, and the information that makes its way into the Office of campaign Finance's online search system is lacking in detail, out of date, and hard to access.
The recently-passed ethics bill addressed an obvious loophole, banning lobbyists from providing services to elected officials at a discount. Unfortunately, it did not attack more subtle problems with DC's current lobbying registration, reporting, and disclosure.
Currently, lobbyists in DC have to fill out forms describing their lobbying activities on a semi-annual basis. Concerned stakeholders may therefore have to wait until months after important debates to find out what interests were working to influence the conversation.
30 states require reporting on at least a quarterly basis, while more than a dozen require monthly filing. DC should require that its lobbyists adhere to national best practices and file quarterly, monthly, or in near-real time.
Data is not accessible enough
Currently, the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) posts disclosure forms on its website, in PDF format, every 6 months. Some of that data can be accessed through OCF's searchable system. But this system is simply not adequate.
For example, it is possible to create a list of all the companies that have lobbied David Catania, but can be very difficult to ascertain all of the public officials that David Wilmot has contacted. It is possible to find out what companies are lobbying on a specific issue, but not easily identify which public officials they are contacting in relation to that issue. The forms posted online are arranged by company, but lobbyists can work for more than one company and there is no way to search the system for an individual lobbyist.
Unfortunately, there is also no way to save, or link to, a search. Every time a user wants to find out who has been trying to influence Tommy Wells they have to start the search process from scratch.
OCF does provide for bulk data downloads. This is a positive step and is helpful for computer programmers and other savvy users, but is not particularly useful for laypeople.
If the online system allowed users to easily perform and save these kinds of searches then it might be workable. But in its current state it is not up to par. The OCF spent time and money building an online search tool, and they need to take the final steps necessary to make it a great one.
Currently, campaigns have to disclose their donors several times leading up to election day. If Mayor Gray's legislation mirrors Attorney General Nathan's testimony, this schedule will become even stronger. In the final days of a campaign candidates may even have to disclose on a near-real time basis. Lobbying disclosure should be improved to match, and both sets of data should be made available online in easily searchable formats.
Lobbying and campaign finance are inherently linked. Companies that lobby city government invariably donate to political candidates. The Council should include provisions to strengthen regulations governing the city's lobbyists in any campaign finance legislation that they consider.
The chairman of ANC 5B stole about $30,000 from the ANC last year. DC agencies struggle to provide enough oversight of dysfunctional ANCs. The District can start to increase accountability and transparency by making ANC financial reports available online.
ANCs must provide the DC Auditor with quarterly financial reports. The DC Auditor is responsible for auditing the financial information, maintaining a database of the information, and ensuring that the reports are in compliance.
It would be a small step to also make this information readily available to the public. The press and interested members of the public could then monitor the ANC financial reports and identify mistakes, omissions, and inconsistencies that may have been missed.
Under the current system, the DC government is not providing the resources required for adequate oversight. The size and scope of the ANC system outweighs the resources dedicated to overseeing it. The DC Auditor has many other responsibilities and the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, charged with administrating ANCs, only has two full-time staff members.
With financial information effectively hidden from the public, it takes extremely diligent individuals significant effort and time to uncover improper or missing information. In September 2011, the Washington Times discovered that the DC auditor approved ANC financial reports that were missing basic information, proper signatures, or evidence of tax deductions. The Times also reported that the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions doesn't maintain records from the ANCs.
In the ANC 5B scandal, the DC Auditor initiated an audit after failing to receive financial reports for 3 consecutive quarters. The DC auditor currently posts a list detailing if and when ANCs submitted their financial reports.
If the database were available online, the public could have more easily and quickly found out about the DC Auditor's and the ANCs' failings, without having to rely on intrepid reporters sifting through hidden data.
Making this database available online should not place an undue burden on individual ANCs or the DC Auditor. But it will allow the press and public to better scrutinize these elected officials. Knowing that their records are easily available to the public may also encourage ANCs to follow proper financial procedure.
The ANC system is due for change. Putting these documents online would be a small step in the right direction.
Campaign finance violations in DC have triggered numerous federal investigations and corrupted DC's political process, but the vast majority of sitting DC councilmembers still seem unwilling to risk cutting off their own sources of money to fix a serious problem.
Amendments from Tommy Wells (Ward 6) on last year's ethics bill to ban "bundling" and corporate contributions failed on a 12-1 vote. Yesterday, Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill to tackle these issues, with Wells co-introducing, but no other councilmembers agreed to co-sponsor.
None of the sitting councilmembers up for reelection signed onto a pledge by at-large candidate David Grosso to increase transparency in donations, and only Wells and Cheh have expressed support for a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions. Having 11 of 13 councilmembers disinterested in campaign finance reform is unacceptable.
Serious flaws create serious scandals
Some of the biggest flaws in DC campaign finance involve corporate contributions. Corporate entities are allowed to directly give money to candidates in DC, unlike under federal campaign finance law. Worse, many corporate entities have multiple subsidiaries, such as developers who create a separate LLC for each project, and are allowed to donate up to the maximum from each of them separately.
This is very common in DC campaigns. The fact that so many incumbents garner much of their campaign cash this way may be why not a single other councilmember voted for Wells' amendments to ban the practice.
That's not the only problem with campaign finance, though perhaps the biggest legal loophole. There are also ongoing federal investigations into the campaigns of Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether the Gray campaign accepted numerous money orders that weren't really from separate individuals.
The District was reminded of those investigations in dramatic fashion this weekend when the FBI raided the offices of Jeffrey Thompson, who owns Chartered Health Plans, the District's largest contractor. He is also one of the most significant donors to district politicians.
Thompson and related entities have given more than $700,000 to various campaigns over the years, including massive sums to Gray, former mayor Adrian Fenty, and at-large councilmember Vincent Orange. The raids also targeted a public relations consultant to the Gray campaign.
Proposals seek to mend the system
Several reformists have emerged with concrete proposals to make campaign finance in the district more transparent and effective.
When Tommy Wells introduced his doomed campaign finance amendments to last year's ethics bill it seemed like his might be the lone voice for reform on the council. But today he joined Mary Cheh as the only cosponsor on her "Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2012."
According to a statement by Cheh's office, the bill would "prohibit pay-to-play, require disclosure of external fundraising activities, and... ban corporate contributions."
Meanwhile, the DC Committee to Restore Public Trust, led by activist and former council candidate Bryan Weaver and Ward 7 ANC commissioner Sylvia Brown, is pushing a ballot initiative that would ban direct corporate contributions to DC campaigns.
Organizers must collect over 22,000 signatures from registered DC voters to place the initiative on the November ballot. Volunteers plan to gather signatures at every polling place during the April 3 primary.
The initiative has garnered some high-profile backers. Councilmember Wells is providing organizational support and, while announcing her legislation, Councilmember Cheh said that she "wholeheartedly support the efforts of the District residents working on" the initiative. At-large candidates Peter Shapiro, Sekou Biddle, and David Grosso, as well as Ward 8 candidate Jacque Patterson, also have voiced support.
Several candidates running for DC Council in the April 3rd primary, May 5th special, and November 6th general elections are taking an additional step to show their commitment to campaign finance reform. Grosso, who is running for the independent at-large seat up for election in November and currently held by Councilmember Michael A. Brown, has proposed a "transparency challenge" to all council candidates.
The challenge asks candidates to proactively embrace campaign finance reform ideals by pledging to post information on their websites about the directors, managers, shareholders, and corporate structures of any companies that they receive donations from. Additionally, the challenge requires candidates to disclose the names of people who collect multiple donations for them as well as information on each individual donor.
So far, candidates Max Skolnik (Ward 4), Jacque Patterson (Ward 8), and Peter Shapiro (at-large) have pledged to join the challenge. Although, as of March 6, only Grosso has posted his information online. All participants are challenging sitting incumbents. So far, no incumbents have joined the challenge.
Incumbents fail to speak up or act
Unfortunately, aside from Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, most members of the DC Council seemed unconcerned with campaign finance issues and unlikely to act on reform before the upcoming elections.
Muriel Bowser, primary author of last years ethics bill and chair of the council's Committee on Government Operations, stated that she intended to take action on campaign finance. However, she has since defended herself for accepting corporate donations and argued against banning corporate money outright, making it unlikely that she will support Cheh's bill.
It seems even more unlikely that a majority of councilmembers will act on any sort of campaign finance reform. Several have spoken out against reform. Notably, yesterday morning Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) joked about his dislike of Cheh's legislation.
The rest of the council should work with Cheh and Wells to craft a bill that will reform the campaign finance system while still allowing participation from all engaged parties. DC should ban corporate bundling and strengthen disclosure rules, to make it more apparent who is donating and ensure that corporations do not skirt contribution limits. Contractors and other corporations that do business with the city should face even further restricted in order to avoid obvious conflicts of interest.
DC's politicians have proven all too willing to take advantage of weak campaign finance regulations. But it seems as though the city is becoming sick of it. The DC council should step up, fight against this culture of corruption, and bring corporate influence over elections back from the stratosphere and down to the height of individual influence.
On Saturday, registered Democrats in DC have the opportunity to elect 14 delegates to send to Charlotte, North Carolina in September for the Democratic National Convention.
There are 92 people running for the slots. Residents of Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7 (the wards along DC's northern border) vote for one set of delegates, while residents of the other wards vote for a different set.
People can vote at UDC's building 46E, between 10 am and 2 pm on Saturday. Here's a map of where to go.
Among the recognizable names are Greater Greater Washington editor Jaime Fearer, who lives in Ward 5, and contributor and Ward 7 transportation expert Veronica Davis. We've periodically written about some of the good work of current or former ANC commissioners like Sylvia Brown (Ward 7) and Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), and former youth mayor Markus Batchelor.
Fearer and Brown are both part of the "51st State for Obama" slate. A number of candidates have formed slates, though slates have no official standing, and anyone is free to vote for whomever they like.
There are a few particularly recognizable names, but ones which voters should be wary of choosing: Councilmembers Marion Barry (Ward 8) and Jack Evans (Ward 2). They made some news yesterday with a controversial plan to bus supporters to the caucus.
There are delegate slots reserved specifically for elected officials, but these 3 councilmembers are also running against the masses, likely hoping to get into the convention without a fight over those other slots. Evans has been a delegate at all but one convention since 1992 and Barry is no stranger to the event.
Chuck Thies points out that sending Barry, in particular, creates a real danger of some sort of scandal distracting press coverage of the convention. That would remind national viewers of a side of DC that most residents would prefer not to emphasize, at a time when DC has so many positive aspects the delegates can highlight.
The national party conventions are a unique event that will surely be a thrill for those selected to attend. They will also provide a rare opportunity to tell DC's story and argue for full representation to engaged activists from around the country.
In early- to mid-May, DC will hold a special election to fill the seat vacated by Harry Thomas Jr. Many potential candidates have already emerged. The time is right to elect a councilmember focused on ethical and effective representation for the people of Ward 5, but to do so, progressives must unite to support a single candidate.
If the race is as crowded as current speculation and past experience lead us to believe, any contender that can secure the support of a strong, passionate, and unified constituency will be well positioned to win the seat.
A compelling, good government candidate will be able to fuel a campaign with local activists, progressives from across the city, and voter anger at corrupt and entrenched political interests. However, if progressive energies are split, a candidate still loyal to Thomas, or hand-picked by the political establishment, will easily rise to the top instead.
Current at-large, and former Ward 5, councilmember Vincent Orange has already called a meeting of the "Ward 5 leadership" for 7 pm tonight at Israel Baptist Church. He is likely attempting to anoint an establishment-backed candidate, someone with deep ties to current political leadership in the ward. If a consensus is reached, that candidate will become the immediate frontrunner.
This is not acceptable. Ward 5 has been poorly represented for too long. For every passionate and effective ANC commissioner or civic association officer, there are many more simply interested in lining their pockets, amassing personal power, or advancing a selfish agenda. Now is not the time for the past political reality, it is the time for leadership that stands up, stops the culture of corruption, and makes Ward 5 proud.
Several talented progressive individuals have announced an interest in running for the seat. They include Kenyan McDuffie, who ran against Thomas in the last race, and John Salatti, an ANC commissioner in Bloomingdale. Jaime has pledged her support to McDuffie, Nolan stands squarely behind Salatti, and Matt is undecided. But we all agree that everyone must work together to put forward the single most qualified and electable candidate, for the good of both Ward 5 and the District of Columbia.
Progressives in the ward must now come together to have an open, honest discussion to achieve consensus on a single candidate. Rather than letting personal relationships or friction between individual camps dominate, progressives must focus on what is best for the ward and quickly translate that into a winning campaign.
This campaign cycle is condensed, and may be even more so if the Ward 5 special election is moved up to coincide with the primary on April 3. Either way, there is no time to waste on duplicative efforts in gathering signatures, attending community forums, and get-out-the-vote activities.
A strong, progressive candidate can truly move Ward 5 forward. But a contentious fight will set us back.
The draft ethics bill under consideration by the DC Council takes steps to limit the use of Constituent Service Funds. The Government Operations Committee should take a bold step and abolish the funds altogether when they report a final bill.
Photo from the DC Council.
Analysis conducted by DC for Democracy makes this painfully clear. DC for Democracy found that very little money raised for CSFs went to needy constituents. More often, funds were spent on "other", a category that includes catering, local travel, and event tickets.
The draft ethics bill addresses this abuse of Constituent Service Funds by cutting the maximum amount Councilmembers may raise, from $80,000 to $40,000. This limit would bring the funds back in line with their size prior to 2009, when the council upped their limit to $80,000.
This new limit is simply window dressing to make what are essentially slush funds more palatable to the public. Either CSF's make sense or they don't. And the proposed cut to their size is a tacit admission that they don't.
Additionally, only 5 of the 13 Councilmembers raised more than $40,000 for their Constituent Service Funds last year, and 4 of them raised between $40,000 and $50,000. Only Jack Evans, who raised $85,000, would be really effected by the new limit.
The draft ethics bill further limits the use of Constituent Service Funds by defining more narrowly what they can be spent on. The loopholes, however, are obvious for all to see. They can't be spent on season tickets to sports events, but they can be spent on individual game tickets. They can't be spent to promote a Councilmember, but they can be spent on community events sponsored by the Councilmember.
In 2010 only three sitting Council members spent 25% or more of their CSF's on constituent needs (Vince Gray spent 28% on constituent needs before being elected mayor). Conversely, 6 Council members spent more than 60% of their funds on the "other" category. If these numbers were reversed, there still wouldn't be enough CSF money going to needy District residents.
At the end of the day, the amount spent by Councilmembers meeting the daily needs of constituents through these funds ($48,271) is a tiny drop in the bucket relative to the needs of a city in which 30% of children live in poverty. Instead of giving needy constituents crumbs from their table of wealthy donors, Councilmembers should address the root causes of poverty and unemployment that create these needs in the first place.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser released a draft ethics bill Friday. The bill takes some steps to follow best practices in municipal ethics, but is overly reactive to recent scandals, contains significant loopholes, has relatively weak enforcement and punitive powers, and ignores or passes the buck on some much needed reforms.
Bowser chairs the Council's Committee on Government Operations, and therefore has the responsibility for creating a bill out of the many individual ethics proposals that various councilmembers put forth.
Her bill establishes a single body, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, with the authority to make rules and regulations, issue subpoenas, impose fines, and censure public officials. The bill also codifies new financial disclosure requirements and attempts to regulate transition, inaugural, legal defense, and constituent service funds.
Unfortunately, the powers of the board are limited and politicized, the other provisions of the bill have obvious loopholes, and several important reforms are not fully addressed.
The bill takes positive steps to strengthen regulation of inaugural and transition committees. It requires that these committees report their finances in the same way that principal campaign committees do, and it sets limits on the amount that individuals can contribute. The bill also has fairly strong financial disclosure provisions that would make potential conflicts of interest easier to identify.
Unfortunately, the bill's efforts related to lobbying reform and constituent service funds are weak and riddled with loopholes.
The bill prohibits lobbyists, or those working on their behalf, from offering legal or professional services to public officials or staff at reduced or no cost. There are two serious problems with this provision.
First, it does not prohibit public officials from receiving legal or professional services at little or no cost from someone who is not a registered lobbyist. Public officials should be required to pay market value for any services that they receive.
Second, it allows registered lobbyists to provide legal and professional services to public officials, provided they are adequately compensated. Any circumstance involving a public official hiring and compensating a registered lobbyist to advise them on issues in any way related to council business is a clear conflict of interest and should be prohibited.
Additionally, the bill does nothing to stop lobbyists or businesses from donating to political campaigns, transition and inauguration committees, or constituent service funds.
The bill's attempts to reform constituent service funds are reactionary, weak, and full of loopholes. While prohibiting CSF money from being used to purchase "year-long or season admissions to theatrical, sporting, or cultural events," the bill doesn't prohibit CSF's from buying tickets in any other format.
Of more concern, the financial disclosure requirements do not appear to meet the standards set in other sections of the bill. Unlike transition and inaugural committees, which have to report the name, address, and place of business of their donors, constituent service funds are only required to report "contributions and expenditures ... quarterly". The bill should include specific language requiring CSFs to disclose detailed information about donors.
The bill chooses not to lead on some issues that have been well publicized recently. Instead of making specific proposals on corporate bundling of campaign contributions and nepotism and cronyism in city government, the bill leaves it up to the board to decide policy on these important issues.
That board, as proposed, has problems of its own. Members of the board would be nominated by the mayor and approved by the council. This leaves little room for public input on nominees. District citizens will be relying on the city's most political figures to fill what is intended to be a non-political body. The bill should be amended to allow for some form of public input on nominees to the board.
Additionally, there is no guarantee of minority party, or independent, representation on the board. This may have been intentional and intended to keep the appearance of politics out of the process. But, in a city so dominated by the Democratic party, minority representation is necessary.
The board is given the power to fine and even censure public officials for violations. However, it does not have the power to strip council members, or other elected officials, of committee assignments or votes. Instead, all that the board can do is recommend that the council "consider suspending or removing a Council member's committee chairmanship ... membership ... or the member's vote." The council has no obligation to act on such a recommendation. Additionally, the bill does not specify procedures for censure and removal of ANC commissioners or members of the School Board.
The ethics board should be given the power to truly sanction elected officials, including ANC commissioners and School Board members, for violating ethics and disclosure rules. Real accountability will not be possible as long as this power remains in the hands of political bodies.
The proposal as drafted is not a complete failure, but it will require significant changes to become an ethics bill that the District deserves.
The Government Operations committee will be holding a roundtable on November 30 to discuss the bill. You can register to testify at the roundtable by signing up online, or contacting Judah Gluckman, the committee's legislative counsel, at 202-724-8025 or email@example.com. You can also submit a written statement to the Committee on Government Operations, Council of the District of Columbia, Suite 113 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004 no later than November 30, 2011.
The race to represent Ward 4 on the DC Council is shaping up to be a crowded one. Whether or not it will also be competitive remains to be seen. At least 7 candidates are vying to unseat councilmember Muriel Bowser, who is running for her second full term.
Bowser was first voted onto the council in a 2007 special election to fill the seat vacated by Adrian Fenty when he was elected Mayor. She secured Fenty's endorsement and beat out 18 other candidates with 40% of the vote. Ward 4 voters then elected her to a full term in 2008 with 75% of the Democratic primary and 97% of the general election vote.
Bowser currently chairs the Council's Committee on Government Operations as well as the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. She also recently took over as the DC Council's representative on the WMATA Board of Directors.
On her website, which has not been updated to reflect her current committee chairmanship, She highlights her work on Pepco oversight, healthcare, and foreclosure reform.
If fundraising is any indicator, Bowser will have a distinct advantage. She raised over $63,000 in advance of the October 10 filing deadline and has $140,000 on hand. She will face two challengers who have shown fundraising prowess, or the willingness to fund themselves, and several more who have run for the DC Council in the past.
Max Skolnik, a relative newcomer to Ward 4, has been active in local issues for some time. He represented the Southwest Waterfront as an ANC commissioner from 2004-2008 and runs Kid Power Inc., which operates academic, nutritional, and service learning programs around the city. His campaign is based on three E's: Education, Economic Development, and Ethics.
Skolnik is a first-time council candidate, but has shown some fundraising and organizing skill. He raised over $26,000 before October 10, recently testified in front of Bowser's committee hearing on ethics reform, and has hit the streets of Ward 4 to spread his message. The question is, will he have the energy and talent to present a robust challenge to the incumbent?
Renee Bowser (no relation to Muriel) first ran for the Ward 4 seat as a member of the Statehood Green Party in the 2007 special election. She registered as a Democrat this time around and has jump started her campaign by taking out significant loans, totaling more than $26,000.
Bowser has a long resume. She works as a union lawyer and served 3 terms as an ANC commissioner including a stint as the chair of ANC 4D. Her platform is based around economic development, education, constituent service, and statehood. She has proved willing to commit financially and gotten some press. Her challenge will be translating these efforts to support at the polls.
Another two-time candidate, Baruti Jahi, came in a distant second to Bowser in 2008. He is focused on seniors, public safety, education, economic development, and reigning in waste in city government. Jahi has struggled to raise money this cycle and may find it difficult to make his voice heard in a crowded race.
Several other candidates have declared their intentions to run. Judi Jones ran against Bowser as an independent in 2007, Keith Jarrell is just getting his campaign started, and perpetual candidate Calvin Gurley appears to be taking a non-traditional route to spread his message.
The major storylines in this race are beginning to emerge, as Muriel Bowser attempts to tackle the task of ethics reform, which has been the hot button issue this year. Her post as chair of the Government Operations Committee gives her the opportunity to make sense of the mess of bills introduced by other council members and propose comprehensive ethics legislation.
If she is able to pass an ethics reform bill, Bowser will blunt a major line of criticism as well as tout a signature piece of legislation. Her opponents have begun to position themselves as good government reformers, but will have to find another angle if Bowser herself becomes one before the election.
Bowser's opponents haven't focused all of their efforts on ethics. Other major issues at play appear to be education, economic development, and constituent service. But, Bowser is a proven politician with all the advantages of incumbency. If one of her opponents hopes to stand out they are going to have to work tirelessly, communicate effectively, and, probably, get lucky.
Washington, DC's next primary election is scheduled for April 3, 2012. With roughly 7 months until that day, candidates and story lines are beginning to emerge. This post will explain what readers can expect from Greater Greater Washington throughout election season.
Our goal will be to examine the issues and races with the same depth and passion that we apply to our everyday coverage. Our editorial lens will be trained on the issues, not the political horse race.
We will do our best to reach out to all candidates, and hope to give each one a chance to tell their story and engage on important topics.
Greater Greater Washington will continue to make endorsements, but our process for doing so will change slightly.
After we have watched, reported on, and analyzed each race, a small group of contributors will make and write endorsements. We will choose candidates that share our dedication to smart growth and development, progressive transportation options, good government, and social justice.
We're currently finalizing the endorsement process on our end, and will share the details with you within the next couple of weeks.
If you are running, or planning to run, and want to ensure that your voice is heard by GGW readers please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.
SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.
Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.
Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.
A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.
ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.
For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.
This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.
Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.
Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:
Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.
These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.
These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:
As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.
Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.
These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.
The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.
Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.
Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.
The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.
Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.
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