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Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 7

DC's Ward 7 covers the northern half of neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, plus a few adjacent sections on its western shore. This election, Ward 7 has one of the highest numbers of contested seats for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in all of DC, a testament to these engaged citizens grappling with the changes in our city. Here are our recommendations for nine of these competitive races.


Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

 

What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 7, we chose nine candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.


Pennsylvania Avenue, heading southeast. Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

In ANC 7B we endorse Debra Walker, Villareal "VJ" Johnson, and Jimmie Williams

ANC 7B follows Pennsylvania Avenue from the bridge crossing the Anacostia River to the Maryland border, encompassing the Penn Branch area south of Fort Dupont Park and north of Naylor Road. The Penn Branch Shopping Center is an important area of focus in this area, as its redevelopment has been stalled for years, and just this summer it was auctioned off to a new owner.

Residents also have their eye on the Skyland Town Center, a neighborhood area where shops and housing were razed to make room for redevelopment, but that still sits vacant after the recent withdrawal of Walmart as an anchor store. Many Ward 7 citizens felt strongly that the District government botched this and the nearby Capitol Gateway deal, leaving the neighborhoods with with a large patches of dirt where retail, investment, housing, and jobs should be.

In the district between the Anacostia River and Minnesota Avenue, 7B01, we're endorsing Debra Walker. While not providing the most detailed answers, Debra seemed in step with many of Greater Greater Washington's values, including a focus on multiple levels of housing affordability and neighborhood investment and growth.

In contrast, her opponent, Patricia Howard-Chittams, thinks that "more housing would be a detriment to 7B01," and seemed overly protective of parking when asked about bicycle lanes and improving bus infrastructure.

Farther south near the Maryland border in 7B05, we were impressed by Villareal "VJ" Johnson. In general, it is clear that VJ knows his community well and has a detailed vision and plan for how to make it better. He had well thought-out answers for the different redevelopment sites in the area, and suggested a specific site for the development of more housing.

VJ's energy and experience are exciting to us, and we look forward to his example of what a pro-active, not a reactive, commissioner can do in a changing neighborhood.

7B07 is at the northeastern edge of the ANC, bordering Fort Dupont Park. Jimmie Williams is an impressive candidate here. He wants to see his neighborhood "experience measured and sustainable growth" and details his support of mixed use plans at both Skyland Town Center and Penn Branch Shopping Center.

According to him, the area "is changing and the newer residents are younger with various incomes," are "diverse... [and] don't want to drive to shop," signaling the need to improve alternative transportation options, including bike lanes. Even though he is "aware that there are some in [his] area that view the lanes as a omen of gentrification," he views them as "healthy and viable transportation alternative[s]."

We like the sensitivity VJ brings in his approach to growth and development, and we think he will do well.


The streetcar on Benning Road. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In ANC 7C, we endorse Joseph Thomas

The right-hand corner of the DC diamond is much of ANC 7C, including neighborhoods like Deanwood, Burrville, and others north of East Capitol Street on it's way towards Maryland. What the future holds for Capitol Gateway, the other large redevelopment site abandoned by Walmart, is on the minds of many here, as well as what changes the coming streetcar development along Benning Road will bring.

One candidate stood out to us in this ANC: Joseph Thomas for 7C05. He believes the streetcar will "connect [the neighborhood] to greater economic growth," and wants more retail options to be developed at Capital Gateway, especially dining options for families.

Joseph projects humility, but has good ideas for how to incorporate new housing into the neighborhood, and talks about tackling crime through increasing job opportunities and community outreach rather than more punitive enforcement.


RFK stadium. Photo by Katja Schulz on Flickr.

In ANC 7D, we endorse Bob Coomber and Cinque Culver

Just north and west of 7C lies 7D, a district that includes large stretches of river water and park space. Kenilworth, Parkside, Kingman Park and River Terrace are some of the main neighborhoods within this district, which is bordered by East Capitol Street on the south and the Anacostia River on the west. Besides the extension of the streetcar on Benning Road, the major issue facing residents here are the plans for how to redevelop RFK stadium and the surrounding parking lots and parkland.

7D01 stretches west across the Anacostia into Kingman Park, and for this district we really like incumbent Bob Coomber. At RFK, he sees an opportunity to replace parking lots with new parks and trails (even housing if rules can allow), and wants to work with planners to "encourage neighborhood amenities before professional sports stadiums." His record includes improved pedestrian infrastructure along Oklahoma Avenue, and he has plans for more bike and pedestrian friendly changes.

As a commissioner, Bob also has:

  • Helped establish a community garden
  • Fought against evictions in his neighborhood
  • Actively supported family-leave legislation before the DC Council
Keep up the good work, Bob.

Immediately east of the river is 7D04 and the River Terrace community. In this district, Cinque Culver seems like a good candidate. He is supportive of an NFL Stadium at RFK, but wants to make sure that the stadium acts "as an economic multiplier, employing additional residents of all tax-brackets, as well as incentivizing... streetscape and public space maintenance around the site." He is also supportive of developing more housing in the neighborhood and of using the streetcar plans as opportunity to improve bike transit along Benning Road, and he seems generally open and balanced in his views.


Photo by jantos on Flickr.

In ANC 7E, we endorse Myron Smith and Dontrell Smith

ANC 7E is another area directly bordering the stalled Capitol Gateway project. Hugging the Maryland border south of the eastern-most tip of DC, 7E includes neighborhoods like Marshall Heights and Dupont Park.

Here Myron Smith is our pick for ANC 7E04. He wants to increase the development of more housing near the two metro stations in the ANC, and is adamant about improving access across the river, especially for pedestrians and bikes.

We're also endorsing Dontrell Smith, who is in a three-person race for 7E06, which is along the northeastern edge of the ANC. He plans to advocate for more and more affordable housing, in particular at the Capitol Gateway site. He is supportive of bike lanes along Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, as well as other trail and lighting improvements throughout the area.

One of Dontrell's opponents, Lakeshia Lloyd-Lee, also completed our questionnaire, but her answers were vague and non-committal.

To be honest, what most impressed us in this race were Dontrell's notable efforts to catch our attention. He organized over 20 of his supporters to write in favorable remarks on our feedback form, and while we did not use those scores to determine our endorsement, the effort demonstrated the breadth of the candidate's neighborhood support, his organization, and his willingness to engage with the Greater Greater Washington community.


Famous Shrimp Boat near Benning Road Metro. Photo by David Gaines on Flickr.

In ANC 7F, we endorse Maria (Mafe) Jackson

Sandwiched in between all of these other ANCs lies 7F. An portion stretches across the river to the RFK site, while the majority of the ANC surrounds the intersections of Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street, and is bordered by Benning Road on the north.

7F01 is a hotly contested race between four candidates, all of which completed our questionnaire. Of the four, Maria (Mafe) Jackson is as our top choice. Maria's answers to our questionnaire showed an in depth understanding of the issues and revealed a stand-out intellect.

Her analysis of the current proposals at RFK was thorough, and included a proposal to look at adding an Oklahoma Avenue Metro station, as well as dramatic improvements to pedestrian and bike infrastructure across the Whitney Young Houston Bridge. She also is an advocate of extending the streetcar even farther towards Southern Avenue to improve transit options for that part of the city.

She gave detailed plans for improving access across the ANC. Residents who live east of the Anacostia, she says "are locked in their community because of the poorly-designed existing bridges. The current design of the roads fails to provide safe access to the rest of the city for residents, families, and seniors. Beautiful parks surround this area, but they are not easily or safely accessible to residents by walk or bike."

Maria was also solid on housing. She proposed building more housing at a nearby shopping center and vacant lots, and was strongly for home ownership support programs and education. "Advocating for these opportunities for our residents is what revitalization of my neighborhood looks like to me," she said.

Many readers agreed that Maria would make an excellent commissioner, writing in our survey that she seemed "energetic, positive, responsible, and qualified." Two of Maria's opponents, Gia Stancell and Tyrell Holcomb, seemed reasonable but did not measure up to Maria's strengths. David Belt, the fourth candidate, responded negatively to many our questions about increased development and transit.

Maria is the clear choice here.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 7 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 7. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

Politics


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 1

If you live in U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, or nearby neighborhoods, you probably live in Ward 1. Here are our recommendations for seven competitive races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in that area on November's ballot.


Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

These are our Ward 1 endorsements:

 

What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 1, we chose seven candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses many unopposed candidates.


The Columbia Heights fountain, which is in Ward 1. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1A we endorse Valerie Baron, Darwain Frost, and Amanda Frost

ANC 1A covers Columbia Heights and Park View north of approximately Harvard Street, give or take a block. The main housing-related activity in the area involves redevelopment plans for the old Hebrew Home, on Spring Street at the ward's northern edge, and Park Morton, a public housing complex just east of Georgia Avenue.

Debate has also been raging online about whether the neighborhood is "going downhill" after one (former) resident sent an angry letter to PoPville about trash, crime, and a litany of other complaints; others, like ANC 1A chair and occasional GGWash contributor Kent Boese argued his characterization of the neighborhood was unfair.

The neighborhood, and all of Ward 1, has a high level of transit ridership and many bus lines in addition to the Green Line Metro service, but buses often spend a great deal of time stuck in traffic. Bicycle ridership is also high and rising, but there is a big need for bike connections to nearby areas, particularly east and west.

In district 1A01 near 14th and Spring, Valerie Baron and Ernest Johnson are vying for an open seat. We're endorsing Baron, who says she supports "fairly dense housing near the Metro" and would "prioritize affordable housing at the Hebrew Home." She bicycles regularly and endorses improving bus service.

We asked all candidates how they would react to proposals that make bus service better (such as with a bus lane) but require removing some parking. Baron was one of the few candidates to give a specific suggestion: Spring Road just east of 16th Street.

Ernest Johnson is unwilling to consider speeding up bus service if doing so takes away even a small amount of parking. He also thinks both housing and retail are "over-developed" and does not want more of either. His responses showed no vision for a better future for Columbia Heights beyond vague claims to want affordable housing; Baron is the clear choice.

A few blocks to the east in 1A07, Sharon Farmer is challenging sitting commissioner Darwain Frost. We're endorsing Frost. Farmer's answers were short and vague, except to clearly oppose contraflow bike lanes on one-way streets, bus lanes if they affect parking, or other changes. In his questionnaire answers and record on the ANC, Frost has shown much more openness to learning and considering possible solutions to neighborhood problems.

1A10 is the commission's southeast corner, along Columbia Road and the Soldiers' Home. There, we support Amanda Frost against incumbent Rashida Brown, who did not respond to our survey. Frost showed an open-minded view about growth, saying the Hebrew Home should prioritize "density, sustainability, maximizing and maintaining public space, and economic and environmental impact" to "balance livability with growth"; she'd also like to add housing at vacant properties along Georgia Avenue. On transportation, she'd like a bike lane and better sidewalks on Georgia, and praised the recent Sherman Avenue streetscape.


Photo by Craig James on Flickr.

In ANC 1B, we endorse Jonathan Goldman

The U Street area and hill up to Columbia Heights, as well as LeDroit Park, make up ANC 1B. Besides many of the same issues around crime and the area's evolving demographics as 1A, readers wanted to hear what candidates planned for improving transportation options, in particular bike infrastructure.

There is only one contested seat among the twelve districts in this large ANC, LeDroit Park's 1B01. The open seat there has two candidates, Jonathan Goldman and Anita Norman. We're endorsing Goldman, who is "never opposed to more bike share stations," and is paying particular attention to the "deplorable condition of the Kelly Miller", a public housing complex in the neighborhood. He plans to make working with those residents to improve conditions a top priority, and while he seems in favor of building more housing near the Metro, he says that it will be difficult to add more density because the SMD is "mostly historic."


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

In ANC 1C, we aren't endorsing anyone

1C is Adams Morgan and the neighborhoods (Lanier Heights, Kalorama Triangle) which some people also refer to as Adams Morgan. By far the biggest issue in 1C is the SunTrust bank building and plaza, which could soon be redeveloped.

Sadly, ANC 1C historically has exemplified the public image of ANCs as entities that only say "no." Here, the ANC has been steadfastly opposed to essentially anything replacing this SunTrust building; they want to preserve the plaza, but also don't want a taller building that could make preserving the plaza feasible.

Over the last year, the neighborhood has seen other, similar battles where the ANC has opposed new housing, including zoning in Lanier Heights and a development at the Meridian Center on 16th Street.

In the two contested seats in 1C, none of the candidates distinguish themselves. In 1C07, Wilson Reynolds, the incumbent "is opposed to removing parking in Adams Morgan," even for bus improvements, and is in favor of using "[e]very legal tool... to diminish the size and impact" of development "on our citizens," such as plans on the 1700 block of Columbia Road.

Reynolds is facing Chris Otten, if anything an even more well-known and outspoken opponent of new development. Even though he did not complete our survey, Otten has been touring the city trying to drum up opposition to the zoning update, which won approval in January and has now taken effect; he is threatening to file a lawsuit against it, based largely on a series of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what the update would actually change.

1C08 lies just to 1C07's east. Sitting commissioner JonMarc Buffa chairs the ANC's planning & zoning committee, and has led much of the SunTrust opposition. In his responses, he said he was in support of affordable housing and thinks "providing protected bike lanes is important," but is "proud to have supported the downzoning of Lanier Heights." His opponent, Amanda Fox Perry, did not return our questionnaire.

If you live in either SMD, please consider running for ANC in 2018.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1D, we endorse Jon Stewart, Paul Karrer, and Benjamin Mann

One issue is animating many of the contests in Mount Pleasant's ANC 1D: what to do about a strip of vacant land where Lamont Street would be if it continued up a steep hill, but it does not. Many Mount Pleasant residents would like some play equipment for children in this area, but many residents of the adjacent 1900 Lamont Street building do not.

Of course, that's not the only issue in Mount Pleasant, and candidates also talked about ways to add more housing within the scope of the neighborhood's historic status, improve the vitality of the neighborhood main street, make walking and bicycling safer, and more.

Jon Stewart is challenging incumbent Frank Agbro in 1D01, in the center of the neighborhood. Stewart, who we're endorsing, is a daily reader of Greater Greater Washington and says the blog "helped spark [his] interest in running for ANC." He's for a playground on the contested vacant land, for live music at neighborhood bars and restaurants (an age-old Mount Pleasant controversy), for better bike and pedestrian safety, and for preserving the strong Latino community and businesses in the neighborhood. He as a clear goals for preserving and creating affordable housing in his neighborhood, and improving bus options and infrastructure.

Stewart had perhaps the most humble response to our question, "Why are you the best person to represent" your district, saying "Honestly, I'm not," but he thinks he can do better than Agbro, whom he says missed five ANC meetings, has threatened the neighborhood farmer's market, and more. (Agbro did not respond to our questionnaire). Stewart wrote, "I own a house, ride the bus, shop on Mount Pleasant St, walk around the neighborhood, schlep to other neighborhoods' parks, and buy produce at the farmer's market. Mount Pleasant is great... and it could be greater. :­)" Sounds good to us.

We're also very impressed with Paul Karrer, who's one of three candidates competing for an open seat in 1D02 along 16th Street in the neighborhood's northeast corner. The other two, Alex Hastie and Capree Bell, did not answer the questionnaire, but that's not the only reason to vote for Karrer.

His questionnaire had a great answer for why historic preservation can be valuable ("who doesn't love our brick sidewalks, our trees, and our beautiful rowhouses?") but also not inconsistent with adding housing. His quote: "I think about Mount Pleasant [as] being a 'neighborhood for all'...Our ANC should support sensible and sustainable development that meets the goals of historical preservation but doesn't hinder our homeowners… [and] our ANC should advise our elected officials and government agencies to craft policies addressing affordable housing, transportation options, and quality of life that will make Mount Pleasant a great place to live well into the future."

Huzzah. We hope voters will select Paul Karrer to serve on the ANC.

The final contested seat in 1D is 1D03, a northwest section of the neighborhood that abuts the controversial Lamont Street potential parkland. Incumbent Jack McKay has a long and notable record of service to the neighborhood, but we recommend challenger Benjamin Mann.

McKay says the 1900 Lamont residents should have "decisive say" over the park, and nobody else; he had no suggestions for adding housing within the context of the historic district; and he thinks bus service is good enough. Is there a bus improvement sufficient to warrant prioritizing it over on-street parking? "I don't see that as a real possibility," he said.

Mann, by contrast, had excellent answers to many questions. He wants a more inclusive approach to the park that considers many residents' needs. He'd like to preserve the neighborhood but also add some housing, such as through accessory apartments, saying that "DC needs more housing to help make homeownership and renting more affordable." He's open to changes that rebalance the use of street space as well, again only after an inclusive community process.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 1 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 1. You can also see the responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page. We'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

Government


Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, explained

DC has a small, hyperlocal form of government called Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Commissioners, who are elected by their neighbors, help with neighborhood problems and weigh in on how places should (or shouldn't) change, but can't actually make laws or regulations. Still, despite having little formal power, ANCs have a lot of influence over how the District does or doesn't change.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

What are Advisory Neighborhood Commissions?

Each Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) represents a region in each of DC's eight Wards. Within each ANC, commissioners are elected to two-year terms to represent Single Member Districts (SMDs) of approximately 2000 residents. A commission can have anywhere from two SMDs (which would mean two commissioners) to twelve. ANCs are identified by their ward and a letter.

For example, I'm a commissioner in 7D, which is Ward 7's fourth (hence the letter D) ANC. I represent Single Member District 07, which covers neighborhoods called Paradise and Parkside. Some commissions represent a single community, such as 2B, which is the Dupont Circle ANC, whereas others, like my own, represent a number of neighborhoods.

Commissioners come from a variety of backgrounds. Some, like myself, are relative newcomers recruited by community leaders to serve their neighborhood while others have lived in their neighborhoods their whole lives. Even within a single ANC, commissioners can be very diverse; my own commission includes a teacher, a lawyer, government contractors, and a lifelong community advocate.

On the map below, the yellow lines represent DC's wards, the thick red lines represent the ANCs within them, and the thin red lines represent the SMDs that make up each ANC.


A map of DC's Wards and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Ward 7 ANCs are tinted blue, ANC 7D is green, and Single Member District 07 is highlighted in red. Map by the author. Data from DC Open Data.

ANCs weigh in on many of the decisions that the District's governing bodies make. For example, many ANCs wrote letters to the Office of Planning with comments or proposed amendments for the zoning code re-write, and most restaurants work out agreements with the ANCs on things like when they'll be open and whether they can play live music in exchange for ANC support of their liquor license applications. Commissioners can also offer resolutions and testify before the DC Council.

In practice, beyond laws about liquor licenses or zoning, government agencies consult ANCs as a way to get community buy-in for a project. For example, the District Department of Transportation often presents new plans to the public at ANC meetings, giving the community a chance to weigh in and provide feedback. Recently, ANC 6B worked with DDOT to get a pedestrian crosswalk on 11th Street SE between I and M Streets, and ANC 2B urged DDOT to reopen a bike lane at 15th and L which is closed due to construction.

Also, developers pitching new projects often seek ANC approval before going before the Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment, as ANCs get a say with these agencies (more on that below…). The result of these interactions is often a contract between a developer and the neighborhood, called a Community Benefits Agreement.

Commissions can also provide avenues for greater community involvement and input by establishing committees that focus on certain issues, like transportation or planning and zoning.

What kind of authority do ANCs have?

The type of authority that ANCs have can vary. In some cases, they have legal standing. ANCs are automatically granted "party status" before the Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and the Alcohol License Review Board for new businesses and developments in their communities. Party status gives commissions easier access to information, notifications about upcoming hearings, and the right to cross examine participants.


Bars in DC often work with ANCs on things like hours of operation in exchange for the ANC's endorsement. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

In other areas, commissions can only make recommendations that city agencies have to give "great weight" to when making decisions. Great weight requires a government agency to respond, in writing, to concerns raised by a commission. While great weight demands that agencies explain their course of action, it doesn't actually require an agency to change its course of action.

Common critiques and shortcomings of the ANC system

ANC commissioners have complained that they are not given satisfactory explanations when agencies don't follow their recommendations; some commissioners say it's not uncommon for agency contacts to flat-out ignore them. Commissions have very few legal options to compel an agency to respond to their requests.

As a result, much of a commissioner's power is informal, coming from relationships built with government agencies, DC Council members, and the mayor's office. A motivated and skilled commissioner can draw district government attention to a neighborhood and even motivate agencies to bring resources to bear to solve a problem.

However, ANCs also reflect many of the inequalities and inequities of life in DC. Some commissions benefit from well-educated, well-connected commissioners who can afford to take days off work to testify at DC Council hearings, lobby agencies for action, and develop an in-depth understanding of how policy issues impact their community. Less wealthy communities do not necessarily have the privileges of as spare time and plenty of social capital. This places less affluent communities at a disadvantage when negotiating with developers or engaging with governmental agencies.

Commissions are also somewhat under-resourced. At most, a commission can afford to hire one part-time staff member, who usually acts as an office manager and assists commissioners with logistics, and supporting commissioners as they address concerns raised by the community.

In some cases, commissions have been accused of simply holding up any possible neighborhood change. For example, commissions have often devoted considerable time internally negotiating relatively minor adjustments projects. For example a commission can delay new development projects for months if not years. Such delays can be frustrating in a city like DC with a rapidly growing population and rapidly growing rents.

But ANCs can also positively weigh in on big neighborhood or citywide controversies by being thoughtful instead of knee-jerk. For the Hine project in ANC 6B, where a former junior high school is turning into a mixed-use development, the commission put together a task force that weighed the various interests really well and advocated for improvements instead of simply saying "no." Another example of 6B actively engaging is that with the zoning update, the commission studied and made smart suggestions while being supportive overall.

At the end of the day, ANCs matter

The fact that ANCs don't have formal power, plus that they can differ so much across the District, has led to some debates about the system's value. Some say ANCs should gain legislative powers and become a house of representatives for the District. Others say the whole system should be abolished since all it does is let hyperlocal politics trump good public policy by slowing things down.

No matter what you may think about these commissions, they do have influence over whether and how our neighborhoods will change and grow. Their importance in what gets built and what kinds of businesses can operate in the area means that they have influence in the community.

District residents should pay attention to what their ANC commissioners are saying in their name. At the end of the day, ANCs are supposed to represent the community's interests but they can only do that if the community pays attention to what they are doing.

You've got a chance to vote for your ANC commissioner this fall. Want to read and evaluate your candidates? Read candidate responses to Greater Greater Washington's ANC questionnaire here and learn where your commissioners (or potential commissioners) stand on important issues.

Politics


DC will have 300 hyper-local elections this fall. Can you help us sort through the candidates?

150 candidates for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in DC filled out a survey about their views. You can read their responses, and we'd like to hear what you think as we decide on Greater Greater Washington's endorsements. Can you help?


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Every two years, DC voters elect Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in nonpartisan races on the November ballot. An ANC is a neighborhood council of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community.

ANCs are very important on housing and transportation; an ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects, while good ANCs give the government suggestions for positive ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes.

Each district averages about 2,000 voters; there are 40 commissions citywide, 296 districts, and 401 candidates on the ballot (some unopposed, some districts with no candidates, and some with four candidates). In the past, we've given reviews and made endorsements for many of the races. This year, we'd like to do an even more thorough job of evaluating candidates, but need your help to sort through the hundreds of them.

We created a questionnaire with a combination of citywide questions and neighborhood-specific questions, sent it to all the candidates, and already have 150 responses. We'd like your help to evaluate the responses and give us feedback which a team of staff and volunteers will then collate into a final "scorecard."

Here's what you can do:

  1. Find your ward and ANC if you don't know them yet here.
  2. Open up the responses for your ward:
    Ward 1 ·Ward 2 ·Ward 3 ·Ward 4 ·Ward 5 ·Ward 6 ·Ward 7 ·Ward 8
  3. Read the responses for a candidate and give your feedback on this form.
  4. Repeat for as many other candidates as you want to do. Try other ANCs, other wards—all input is helpful!
(One caveat: We copied & pasted the responses from the survey into these PDFs, and some of the formatting got messed up, like if someone had “smart quotes” (such as from writing their replies in MS Word and pasting them) or other special characters, bulleted lists, etc. Please disregard any strange underlines or other formatting quirks; the idea here is for you to see their words, not their punctuation prowess. Thanks.)

This isn't a vote—we're not going to decide an endorsement by tallying up the ratings. Rather, the ratings and text together will help us understand things like whether a candidate is being honest about his or her views or trying to play both sides of an issue, help inform us about factors we might not be aware of (there are, after all, a lot of neighborhoods), and otherwise evaluate the candidates.

If you are an ANC candidate and haven't finished the survey yet, or you know someone who is, or you are or know of a planned write-in candidate, it's still possible to fill out the survey (but hurry!)

Please get your feedback in by Friday, September 30. We'll then publish reviews and endorsements by mid-October. Early voting starts October 22 at One Judiciary Square, October 28 at early voting centers around the city, and Election Day is November 8.

Politics


What do you want to ask the candidates for your neighborhood council?

In a year where we have a lot of questions we'd like to ask politicians on the national stage, we should also take time to focus closer to home. DC voters will elect hundreds of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in November, and we want to make sure you get a chance to ask them about what matters to you.


Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) are unique, hyper-local elected officials (they represent about 2,000 voters each) that can make significant impacts on the development and landscape of your neighborhood. These positions are non-partisan, meaning there is no primary and the November 8th general election is the only chance you get a chance to vote for these candidates.

Many residents in DC don't even know these officials exist. I remember the first time I voted in DC; on my way to the voting site I was stopped by a nice man with a firm handshake who asked me where I lived. When I told him, he said "Great! You live in my district, and you should vote for me for your ANC commissioner!" Sure enough, his name was on my ballot, and I'll admit it: His handshake won my vote.

Now that I know a little more about how important these leaders can be, I don't recommend the handshake-vetting process. But because of the relative low-profile of these elections, finding out more about the candidates before election day can be a challenge.

We'd like to try and fix that

Greater Greater Washington is in the process of creating a questionnaire that we will send to ANC candidates across the city. After collecting and organizing candidate responses, we will publish our opinions and each candidate's words on the site in a way that you can easily find the information you need to make informed choices about your local ANC race.

We'd like your help in crafting questions for this questionnaire. Please fill out the form below with questions you would like ANC candidates to answer publicly. We'll sort through your suggestions to help us finalize the questionnaire we distribute in September.

Because these elections are so local, we're looking for questions relevant specifically to your neighborhood or ANC, or they could apply over a wider range like much of your ward, or even the whole city.

What do you wish you had answers to?

Why doesn't this area have more grocery stores? A dog park? What should be done about that terrible intersection? Here's your chance to ask the people who might represent you on these issues.

Not sure which ANC or district you're in? Find out with this tool!

Politics


In defense of hyperlocal government in DC

Last week, Greater Greater Washington's David Whitehead encouraged readers who live in DC to run for Advisory Neighborhood Commission office, a position that makes you part of a group that weighs in on a number of hyperlocal issues from housing to transportation. Some commented that DC would be better off without ANCs, but I don't think that'd would help the city.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In his post, David explained the role that ANCs play in shaping DC policy, from working with restaurants to secure liquor licenses to giving input on proposed developments. While ANCs can't actually make rules or decisions, District agencies give their opinions "great weight," which makes them very influential.

David also implored readers file to run for ANC office, which there's still time to do (you can also run a write-in campaign without circulating petitions, a move I'd say is especially worth looking into for seats that will have no candidate appear on the ballot).

A few readers, however, rejected the notion that ANCs are useful in the first place. After one said they'd prefer to abolish ANCs altogether, another said:

Yes! Democracy is great. Hyperlocal democracy is terrible. It's bad enough that we as a metropolitan area have to deal with infighting among counties and three state-level jurisdictions. A race among ANCs to block development in a race to become the one corner of a quadrant to stay car-friendly and car-dependent and value-inflated and "peaceful" is just a mess of perverse incentives.
ANCs really aren't so bad

As an ANC commissioner, I'm always curious about the perspective of people who want to abolish ANCs. I have an obvious bias in the matter, but I think those that assume ANCs are a road block to development and progressive ideas would find that most—if not all—of the "obstructionism" would just transfer over to citizens associations in their absence.

In fact, since ANCs are prohibited by law from suing, the incidence of plainly dilatory tactics on the part of those who reflexively oppose things would probably be even more pronounced if all the time/resources currently behind ANCs instead went into resurrecting or rejuvenating neighborhood associations that now have a secondary role.

I have two main thoughts on why ANCs are useful:

First, I find that in general (there are always exceptions), the ANC tends to be the moderating force in the neighborhood relative to citizens associations and groups of affected neighbors, who tend to be more "anti-development" and opposed to "progressive ideas." A well-run ANC, and there are many—far more than there are dysfunctional ones—serves as an advocate for its community, but also works to be a forum for all different viewpoints and tries to broker a compromise weighted in the community's interests.

Second, the plain fact is that some developments, some liquor licenses, some transportation ideas—are just bad ideas and need to be opposed. In the vast majority of cases, ANCs are reacting to things, most of which can be made better or at the very least made adequate from the community's perspective. But sometimes, certain proposals are just bad ideas and should be stopped. There's also a realm of reasonable judgement. You can be a good commissioner and just have a different perspective on smart growth issues than others without being some cartoonish NIMBY.

I think the second point is a little harder to appreciate unless you actually take on the role. Supporting something in a theoretical sense often sounds far better than turns out in practice. And sometimes, frankly, you have to decide to pick your battles.

It's like any other level of politics. If your engaged constituents overwhelmingly prefer one course of action, and they're the ones that show up, they're the ones that write the letters, they're the ones that bend your ear—then yeah, you have an obligation to listen to them and you have to weigh the cost of voting your beliefs and whether it's worth doing in every case.

And eliminating ANCs isn't some panacea for good governance or progressive change. San Francisco has restrictive zoning and no ANCs. Chicago is full of corruption and has no ANCs. What ANCs are is just a way to institutionalize the community involvement of a city full of very smart, very engaged, and very resourceful people who care a ton about what goes on in their neighborhoods.

Ninety-five percent of these people have no broader political ambition, and many of them are professionally high-caliber and could be doing something far more lucrative with their time. Even those who get involved for "selfish" reasons (e.g. a project that impacts their home or their building) often grow into the role and end up contributing far beyond the narrow scope of their original interest.

All that said, the thesis of David's article is absolutely correct: The only way that people who believe in a smart-growth vision, or any other vision for that matter, will be able to affect the course of events is by getting involved and moving the median point of conversation in their direction.

ANCs are not going anywhere, so you might as well run for one and try to make a difference. You absolutely can and it is exceptionally rewarding. You'll learn a lot about your neighborhood, you'll learn a lot about your city, you'll meet a lot of really cool people, and you can have a tangible impact on the place you live in. The satisfaction of helping people is why the vast majority of us do it, and if you're doing it for the right reasons, you'll have many stories to share of doing exactly that.

Politics


You could be an ANC commissioner, and as a reader of this blog, you really should think about it

DC's Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners have a thankless but important job. For no pay, they advise on thousands of neighborhood-level decisions a year: everything from whether or not that restaurant can serve liquor, to whether or not that building is going to meet the needs of the neighborhood. You should consider running. If you're elected, you'll make a difference in your corner of town.


Photo by stu_spivack on Flickr.

DC is split into 299 single member districts (SMDs) organized into 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). By design, each SMD (which are supposed to encompass around 2,000 residents) elects one commissioner to represent their interests. ANCs meet regularly to decide on many community level decisions, including development decisions and permitting.

ANCs have a strangely powerful but also powerless role in DC politics and development. They technically do not have political authority, and instead their opinions and resolutions are given a legal "great weight" that other DC agencies are supposed to (and most often do) respect and follow.

That being said, there are some areas where an ANC's great weight is more influential than others. In the development field, for example, any changes to current regulations must go through the ANC for public input, and because commissioners control these proceedings, they wield significant amounts of power. Commissioners help to broker agreements, and moderate their forum as a place for public debate and negotiation.

ANC elections are non-partisan, and open to any DC resident who has lived in their neighborhood for at least 60 days before petitions are due. It is relatively simple to get your name on the ballot: you only need to collect 25 signatures from your neighbors to qualify. Because of the relative low visibility of these positions and elections, these races are decided by very small amounts of votes—30 votes can sway an election. In ANC races, every vote really counts.

What's more, many races go uncontested, and some seats even stay vacant for lack of interest. 86 SMDs are currently uncontested, and in 153 districts, there is only one contender. That means if there is a lot of opportunity for neighborhood leaders to step forward.

Papers for potential candidates are current available to be picked up at the DC Board of Elections, and as of July 22nd, 642 DC residents have picked up petitions.


Map from DC Office of ANCs - click for a closer view. Has someone picked up papers in your district? Will you?

I imagine many in the Greater Greater Washington community would make excellent ANC commissioners. But maybe you're worried because you don't feel qualified, or don't have a clear picture of what the job looks like.

Here is some advice from fellow Greater Greater Washington readers who also happen to be ANC commissioners:

Daniel Warwick (2B02):

To anyone considering running for ANC:

Serving as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner is an unique and humbling experience.

It is an honor working with your neighbors to improve your community. Commissioners get to know the minutia of obscure liquor licensing, zoning, historic preservation, and public space regulations. More importantly, you get to know what's happening where you live. Improving your neighborhood can mean supporting the first net-zero office redevelopment in the District of Columbia, encouraging the Public Space Committee to put pedestrians and bikes first, or working with an applicant to adapt their proposed development.

It's very easy for a Commissioner to oppose everything. The typical job of an ANC is to be obstructionist, but a greater commissioner tries to say "Interesting idea--lets get some folks together and find something everyone can support." Being an ANC Commissioner is a tough balance and is frustrating at times, but is one of the greatest honors I can imagine.

You should run.

Tom Quinn (3E04):
I can walk all over my SMD and point out new trees, crosswalks, parking signs, some scant bike infrastructure and CaBi stations, sidewalks, etc. All things that we had a role in getting installed, yet most people have no idea. But a lot of the things I've worked on have never borne fruit, so to not go crazy you have to accept from the start that a lot of ideas are not going anywhere and just hope that it feels rewarding.

We've gotten a lot done and I was driven to get involved in part because my predecessor expended all of her energy fighting development and no energy on positive change. So to me it has been worth it.

Thinking about it? Decide soon, your 25 signatures are due by August 10th. Want to talk about it more? Get in touch; I have some ideas for you - dwhitehead@ggwash.org.

Housing


There's an empty seat at your ANC meeting. Whose is it?

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meetings are a place for making important decisions in DC, and the people who actually fill the seats can have a big impact on their neighborhood. Commissioners also have a real opportunity to consider who's not there, and what their needs and interests are.


Whose seats are these? Image from Tarek on Flickr.

A couple months ago, I went to the ANC 3E meeting in Tenleytown, mostly to learn more about the status of this project that lost three floors and over 50 units of housing because of neighborhood pressure. There were more than 40 people in the room... and more than 50 seats left empty.

Whose seats are those? Of course there are many more in the neighborhood that could engage and that aren't, and we can and should do a better job of getting those people out. But what about the residents who aren't in the seats because they aren't here yet? Last year, a net of 1,000+ new residents arrived to town every month (the actual number moving here is much higher, but the amount of people leaving is high too). Who is speaking for them at these meetings that determine whether their potential housing is built or not?

In DC, ANC meetings can shape housing policy

If there is a war around expanding our housing stock at multiple affordability levels, then the battlefields of that war are ANC meetings. This is where buildings gain or lose floors, and where zoning changes knock down potential development.

Though ANCs have little official political power, District officials do have to give their opinions "great weight," meaning they have a lot of influence with agencies like the Zoning Commission. Commissioners who testify for or against certain developments often have significant impacts on rulings. Moreover, a single commissioner can use their position to control the topics of public meetings, to delay or investigate development processes, or to negotiate on behalf of the community. Commissioners' influence is far reaching.

When an ANC commissioner takes the oath of office, they not only pledge to serve in the interest of their neighborhood constituents. They also pledge that they

"will exercise [their] best judgment and will consider each matter before [them] from the viewpoint of the best interest of the District of Columbia as a whole."
Commissioners who don't consider the needs of next month's, next year's, and next decade's residents are not fulfilling their oath.


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

The status quo won't look out for everyone

Of course, even the commissioners who do want to consider future residents are in store for some challenges.

One thing commissioners have to be cautious of is not letting the loudest people in the room shape a neighborhood's direction. ANC meetings can be terrible; they can drag on for hours, and are sometimes full of bitter exchanges between neighbors or boring minutiae. That can often mean that only those with free time and familiarity with the system show up, and decision makers wind up in an echo chamber, even if they're actually just hearing from a vocal minority.

People who work night jobs or two jobs, people who have kids to take care of, or people who simply can't spend four hours listening to debate about liquor licenses so they can speak for five minutes about the building down the block, these people still have opinions that should inform what ANCs do.

We have to look out for tomorrow's neighbors

We need more ways to make sure that next month's 1,000 and the other empty chairs have a voice in our local decisions and politics. I wrote in my introduction to this community that blogging wasn't always enough. I'm an organizer, so I believe strongly that sometimes you have to show up and speak up to get what you want.

But how do you organize people who aren't here yet? I'm normally against speaking for people; I'd rather share the mic and let them use their own voice to say what they want to say. But in this case we need more people who are here today to step up to the mic for those who are coming tomorrow.

As mentioned in the Washington Post not long ago, cities just don't fill up. The idea that there is no room for more housing is fantasy; the idea that there is no political room to build more housing is reality. Growth is coming to our city and region; we must focus on how to shape our cities to accommodate this growth in equitable, beautiful, and smart ways.

Groups around the country are starting to form to fight for the needs of the new comers and the often excluded. In other words, more housing at diverse affordability levels. These YIMBY groups are gathering for an inaugural national conference to share strategy, learn from and engage with each other. GGWash is excited to be there. We know what we need, how to get there is our next question.

In the meantime, neighborhood leaders, next time you sit in a meeting with empty seats, keep the next 1,000 in mind.

Public Spaces


Mike Feldstein revived Dupont Circle. We'll miss him dearly.

Mike Feldstein, a Dupont Circle ANC 2B commissioner who pushed to make sure we get the most out of our public spaces, passed away on Wednesday. He was 73.


Mike Feldstein. Photo from ANC 2B.

Mike had a full and rewarding career long before he became active in civic affairs in Dupont Circle. A New York native, Mike was a Peace Corps volunteer. He worked for the US Agency for International Development and as a policy planning staff member for the State Department. He represented the US around the world, and served as a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

He became involved in the ANC when another remarkable Commissioner, Curt Farrar, had to step down for health reasons. Mike's passion, from day one, was the Circle itself. He was determined to turn an urban park into a vibrant, exciting place once again.

In his quest, he became the Godfather of Dupont Circle.

When Mike was first elected, he told his fellow commissioners, "we should do more with the Circle. Seventy-five years ago, there used to be band concerts out there. There were events happening out there all the time. We should bring it back to life." Of course, we all agreed, but no one had any idea how to bring the Circle back to life.

Except Mike.

He assembled a group of volunteers who shared his vision. They came up with a name: Dupont Festival.

They spent many hours over many months convincing the National Park Service to let them sponsor and hold events in the Circle. This was no easy task, as the folks at NPS entrusted with the park were in no hurry to risk anything. If something went wrong, those bureaucrats would bear the blame. So getting permits for any event was a huge undertaking.

Mike used the World Cup to bring Dupont together

One of the earliest efforts was Soccer in the Circle. Two of his volunteers, Aaron DeNu and Michael Lipin, had the idea of hosting a giant viewing party for the opening of the World Cup in June, 2010. This would involve getting NPS permission to put up two giant screens in the park, and then—after securing permission—raising tens of thousands of dollars to pay for it, and then assembling the manpower to put on the event and clean up immediately afterwards.

Honestly, I don't think anyone on the ANC except Mike Feldstein thought it would ever happen, but we all went along with the idea. After countless meetings, they got NPS to agree to allow use of the park, and then convinced the Brazilian Sugar Cane Industry Association to donate something like fifteen-thousand dollars to help pay for equipment rentals and related expenses. They got FIFA and ESPN to give them the rights to stage an open air broadcast of the cable tv feed. The Screaming Eagles, DC United's booster club, would be volunteer marshals and would handle cleaning up.

On Saturday June 12, 2010, crowds began assembling at 6:30am to watch the first of three games. Because South Africa was the host country, the time difference meant a very, very early start. It was South Korea versus Greece, and the early crowd included large numbers of people from the Korean and Greek communities, including embassy staffs. With the 7 am kickoff, we were pleasantly surprised to see the park packed with people that early in the morning. We had no idea just how packed it would become.


Soccer in the Circle. Photo by David on Flickr.

By the time the third game began at 2pm, the park had been rocking for more than six hours. It was estimated as many as 15,000 people had attended at one time or another. CNN was doing live cut-ins, as was ESPN. All the local stations were there. We were seen literally all around the world on CNN International. The crowd was well-behaved. There was only one arrest, for public intoxication. Every restaurant within shouting distance of the circle ran out of beer and was scrambling for more in the intense heat of that June afternoon.

The US and Britain played to a 1-1 tie, and, immediately after the game ended, the Screaming Eagles began a clean-up blitz. Dozens of them filled plastic garbage bags with whatever trash was left over, even though the crowd had put most everything in trash cans. Within an hour, the park was cleaner than it had been the day before. Timing was crucial, because the match ended at 4:15 pm, and the annual Pride Parade kicked off at 6:30. So the soccer triple-header was only the start of a day-night doubleheader that brought a hundred thousand celebrants to our neighborhood: soccer in the morning and afternoon, and then the Capital Pride Parade. Wow! Just celebrating the day with more than 100,000 of our closest friends!

A finer day there never was.

Soccer was just the start

After the success of Soccer in the Circle, the NPS permits came easier. And, eventually, the Park Service even developed a separate policy for urban parks. Previously, NPS rules, regulations, and policy were pretty much one size fits all, whether we're talking about Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Dupont Circle. Whether the change was a direct result of what was happening at Dupont is not clear, but events like the soccer viewing certainly didn't hurt.

Mike and his Dupont Festival team—Will Stephens, Andy Klingenstein, and Aaron DeNu—made Groundhog Day great again, bringing it to Dupont Circle with the help of Potomac Phil. They found Phil in Miss Pixie's on 14th Street, brought him out of the closet and out of the shadows. We've had band concerts, Shakespeare, dance celebrations, Earth Day, science fairs, and more Soccer in the Circle viewings—both the US Mens and Womens teams—and so much more.

Mike believed strongly that parks and open urban spaces are to be celebrated, cherished, and used. He believed that free events, open to the public, are a way to build community. And he used his vast experience as a State Department official to navigate the bureaucracy and help achieve his goal of restoring Dupont Circle to its role as the center of our neighborhood life.

Mike strongly supported new housing, but wanted to make sure it was done right. "If we delay someone for a few months or a year, that's not always good," he said. "But if we tear something down, it's gone forever. And if we put up something bad, it may last for a hundred years."

Mike strongly supported walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, and mass transit options. His New York background made him a dedicated urbanist.

We loved Mike dearly and grieve the loss of a true friend. He was a pleasure just to be with. Kibitzing with Mike was one of life's joys. He leaves behind countless friends, and a legacy of making our neighborhood a better place. He had a vision and made it reality. He was the Godfather of Dupont Circle and he really did bring the Circle back to life.

There will be a celebration of Mike's life later on May 1st, with the location to be determined.

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