July 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
ANC embarrasses another swath of D.C. residents
ANC, Advisory Neighborhood Commission, gay news, Washington Blade

Advisory Neighborhood Commission Areas.

D.C.’s controversial advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) set-up embarrassed another swath of residents again last week. It didn’t help that it occurred in one of the city’s highest-profile development-intensive areas.

Usually community chagrin centers on outlandish internecine tussling exposed or unpopular regulatory recommendation proffered by one of 40 such small groups across the city. This time it raised the question of whether the District might be better off without them.

The 12-member neighborhood advisory group in the bustling and growing 14th and U streets area has been unable to muster a quorum for monthly meetings half of the time during the last nine months. Last week they again failed to conduct a meeting due to no-shows at a second session scheduled for July – following insufficient attendance the prior week.

Such incidents, especially so absurdly chronic, also beg an obvious question. If these biennially elected unpaid advisory-only representatives without statutory authority to make decisions that much matter can’t bother to show up, why should anyone – including city agencies – care about them or their opinions?

I doubt that the commissioners have offered to reimburse community business owners who showed up as scheduled, dragging attorneys and architects or other costly professionals along to present their enterprise plans in the hope of winning a collective blessing of favorable advisory opinion along the city’s ridiculously long slog to licensing.

A random batch of replacement candidates will likely appear as gung-ho as the current ones were soliciting votes, soon promising “at least I’ll show up at the meetings!” Maybe the city should instead reconsider whether, on balance, these groups are actually anything more than an obstruction and hindrance to progress.

Other numbers are just as bad.

The D.C. Board of Election update on July 22 indicated that many of the current commissioners in this ANC appear not to be seeking re-election in the November general election. Three of the positions currently have no candidates interested. In five other districts, only one candidate has even begun the low-threshold ballot qualification process.

In the adjacent Columbia Heights neighborhood, nobody has yet expressed interest in running for five of the 12 seats. Only two commissioner spots have yet generated a potential filing by more than one candidate – with the deadline to register, pick up nominating petitions, collect a whopping 25 registered-voter signatures and file on Aug. 6. In the last election, only one of the 12 seats drew more than one candidate.

In Dupont Circle, only two of nine seats elicited more than one candidate last time around. In Georgetown’s 2012 election, all seats went uncontested – except the one without a candidate. In the Logan Circle area, only three of eight races were contested.

On Capitol Hill, the notoriously anti-business Barracks Row ANC currently has no candidates running for nearly half of its 10 positions, and only one has more than a single candidate competing as of now. On the nightlife-burgeoning H Street, N.E., corridor, half of the seats in this business-fighting ANC have only one contestant.

With little over a week left to file, well over one-third of all districts don’t yet have a candidate interested. Only four of the 40 area groups, or a mere 10 percent, have at least one candidate running in all sub-districts.

In 2012, 187 of 296 seats were uncontested and an additional 24 spots had no candidate on the ballot. Taken together, 71 percent of all ANC contests either had no candidate or only a solo candidate. In one-quarter of all ANCs there was not a single contested race.

Not all voters even bother to participate in nonpartisan ANC races. In center-city Ward 2 with its high concentration of gay voters, for example, only 66 percent participating cast a vote for ANC commissioner.

Campaigns, such as they are, for ANC positions are usually devoid of substantive issue discussions and the winners little represent much of anything.

Maybe it’s time to begin ending the charade.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • Jon Service

    That’s right let the vocal minority, especially those with a business motivation like Mr. Lee, who don’t like the way things are run things without having elected representatives. I’m sure Mr. Lee would love to have agency staff whom he can influence make decisions rather than an unpredictable democracy. I’ve been at any number of ANC and other meetings where it is the business people who are no-shows and not prepared. Seems to me DC is doing just fine without changing the democratic structure. And it seems when the night-lifers get an ANC commissioner in place they are quite happy with the structure. Democracy is messy, slow is better than fast and roughshod, suck it up.

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