Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, November 15, 2018

AU student seeks ANC seat

It’s not that Sami Green cares strongly about deer safety. But just the same, she soon hopes to have a say in how the local neighborhood commission deals with deer overpopulation.

Green, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, wants to represent AU students and the community as a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Since her freshman year, she has tried several times to fill the single-member district 3D07’s empty seat. The district, created 10 years ago in conjunction with the last census, encompasses the South side dorms and a few residential blocks west of campus. Since the redistricting, the seat has remained empty, despite repeated attempts by students and residents to fill it.

ANCs deal with both important and mundane issues in the community. Liquor licenses, zoning laws and traffic issues come before the commission often. In ANC3D, complaints about AU student behavior in the community can also be an issue. With housing on campus at a premium and the ongoing debate over the proposed Campus Plan — which calls for the construction of dorms in the Nebraska Parking Lot — Green will face difficult and contentious issues if she gets the seat.

After three attempts in the last two years, Green is giving it another go.

“It’s been very trying,” she said. “There have been times when I just want to pull my hair out. It’s been touch and go.”

The main problem with filling the seat is a simple one. The entire single-member district has only approximately 27 community members registered to vote, according to Penny Pagano, AU’s director of Community and Local Government Relations. Petitions to fill the seat are required to have at least 25 signatures — a tough task when Green is battling pushback from some residents who oppose student representation. Difficulties in tracking down enough residents during the two-week time frame Green has to collect signatures also prove daunting.

“It’s almost an impossible task,” Pagano said. “There are very few districts like this.”

While accounts differ on whether the district was specifically drawn to make it nearly impossible for a student to get a seat on the council, or whether it was made specifically to guarantee a student representative, the fact is that no student has sat on ANC3D’s commission for nearly a decade.

But now, after waiting five months for the Board of Elections and Ethics to clear up registration problems that made it impossible to differentiate between North side students — who are part of a different single-member district — and 3D07 residents, this attempt may be successful. Green picked up her fourth petition Monday and is in the process of rounding up the 25 signatures she needs to be seated as a commissioner.

Unexpected difficulties

In fall 2008, Seth Cutter, then-president of the Student Government, asked Green if she might be interested in filling the vacant seat. Green has always been interested in community politics and began attending community meetings to see if it was something she would be interested in, she said. After meeting with neighbors and listening to their concerns about the university and students, Green decided to take the first step and switch her voter registration from California to the District.

However, Green did not anticipate the difficulties that would ensue.

“The way the district was drawn, the current people sitting on the ANC, the rules that the Board of Elections has, the actual numbers of people living in the district — these are all hindrances,” she said. “The regulations have been more a hindrance than any one specific office or person.”

The decision to load the district with students left Green unable to fill the petition, convincing her that if she was ever going to get onto the commission, she would need to register South side students as D.C. voters.

But convincing AU students to register to vote in D.C. can be difficult, according to Professor David Lublin, a political scientist who teaches for the School of Public Affairs.

“Students are only in college a short time, and they may feel they know their towns better, so they prefer to register there,” he said. “Particularly in D.C., where you can’t even elect a congressman or senator — students may prefer to keep their registration at home.”

Furthermore, D.C.’s lopsided Democratic majority — nearly 93 percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008 —encourages some students to stay registered where their vote has a greater chance of impacting the election.

Aaron Golds, a Georgetown University student who serves as a representative for ANC2E04, dealt with the same issue when he started petitioning for Georgetown’s local commission, despite 15 to 17 Georgetown Jesuits and chaplains living in his district.

“The hardest part was getting the 25 signatures,” he said. “It certainly was a challenge tracking some of the people down.”

Despite difficulties faced in convincing students to register in D.C., Green managed to register 23 AU students by setting up a table on the quad and using contacts she had developed with freshmen.

With the extra student voters able to sign her petition, Green went back to the Board of Elections and Ethics for her third petition, only to be told that because her voter registration address was 4400 Massachusetts Avenue — which is in a different ANC — she was unable to receive a petition.

Working with Pagano, Green lobbied the Board of Elections to determine a way to differentiate between South and North side dorms. The Board of Elections was able to create such a system early this week, according to Alysoun McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the Board of Elections.

Challenges

Green harbors no illusions that her job as ANC commissioner will be easy.

“I have a lot going against me. I have to prove myself to a lot of people ... that are hesitant to have a student representative,” she said. “But I welcome the criticism and the apprehension because those [could be] my constituents.”

Green stresses that she will not act as a representative blindly supporting the university or students, but will instead do her best to represent all of ANC3D07’s residents.

“If I have to make a decision, and it’s either support the university policy or support the neighborhood, my allegiance will be to the neighborhood,” she said. “My job as an ANC commissioner is not to be a Student Government representative; it is to be an ANC commissioner.”

Commissioner Tom Smith, who represents ANC3D02, which encompasses the North side dorms, said he thinks having student representation could be beneficial for the neighborhood.

However, there could be pushback from other ANC representatives who think that student representation could have negative repercussions.

“I think ultimately it is up to the student and how they handle themselves,” he said. “I don’t know how the others will feel about it.”

Smith said that there have been issues between AU and the community, some institutional and some student-related. Student parking, conduct complaints — litter, noise, vandalism — and the ongoing debate over the proposed Campus Plan, are all difficult issues the ANC — and possibly Green — will be faced with, he said.

AU’s Campus Plan, in particular, is a difficult issue for any commissioner to deal with, Smith said.

“It’s a huge process,” he said. “It’s a daunting task for anybody.”

Green said she has been working hard over the last year to learn the intricacies of the issues facing the community.

“I have files upon files upon files about past ANC issues,” she said. “Going into this position, I’m going to need a lot of assistance with people who have this experience.”

Green also acknowledged that as a student on the ANC, she will become the de facto representative for all students — charged with representing student problems and responding to community complaints. When she first started meeting with neighbors, Green said people were open and accepting of her. However, as controversy over the Campus Plan increased and larger numbers of students moved off campus, new tensions formed.

“There was a different tone this year,” she said. “I thought it was imperative now, more than ever, to try and rectify some of the impressions community members have about AU students because a lot of them are just not true.”

Pagano said that Green will offer the commission some needed context about students’ needs on campus and how the Campus Plan could impact them.

“She can bring some perspective on student life on campus,” she said. “When we talk about [the university’s] housing needs ... she can give a pretty good viewpoint.”

Green hopes that by increasing dialogue between students and community members, tensions can ebb and cooperation can increase.

“I think it starts with us on campus,” she said. “Both sides need to give and take a little bit. There are ways that both can work together more functionally.”

Spring break

Green is working to complete her petition before AU’s spring break begins March 6.

“It is not an easy challenge but has become par for the course with this process,” Green wrote in an e-mail. “I will do my best to make it happen and appreciate any university support in getting this done in time.”

You can reach this staff writer at cszold@theeagleonline.com.


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