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The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund held a candidate information and training session at The DC Center for the LGBT Community on Monday night aimed at encouraging out District residents to run for a spot on their local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), thereby increasing the visibility of the LGBT representation in District government and providing a pipeline of leaders who may one day seek higher office.
ANCs serve as hyper-local governmental bodies for a set neighborhood or area within each of the city’s eight wards. Commissioners, who are elected on a nonpartisan basis, are tasked with considering various policies or programs that affect quality-of-life issues in their neighborhoods, including traffic, parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licensing, zoning, trash collection and economic development. Each ward has four to six ANCs, identified by letter and number, such as 1A, with each ANC containing anywhere from three to twelve single-member districts, or SMDs. One commissioner elected to an SMD represents, on average, about 2,000 city residents, bringing the total number of commissioners throughout the city to 296.
Of those currently serving as ANC commissioners, 25 are openly LGBT, and only three or four are LBT women, according to John Klenert, a member of the Victory Fund’s campaign board, who attended Monday’s meeting and sought to answer any questions the would-be candidates had about running.
Stein Club President Angela Peoples and Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs Martin Garcia asked some current or previous ANC commissioners to attend as well, in order to serve as a soundboard for potential candidates, answering questions related to election requirements and the logistics of fundraising and campaigning for office.
Jack Jacobson, a former ANC commissioner who now serves as the Ward 2 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, was invited to explain the duties of the position, detailing his previous experience running for the ANC and offering advice to the prospective candidates.
“This gives you a leadership role in your community that other people don’t have,” Jacobson said. “You’ve got to deal with bread-and-butter issues first, but then if you have time, you can work on other issues.”
The experienced commissioners suggested that prospective candidates get to know their area and become visible by getting involved with local community organizations or attending ANC meetings on a regular basis. They also suggested that candidates know all the businesses contained in their single-member district and foresee potential changes that might come before the ANC, such as a restaurant that wants to apply for a liquor license or expand to set up an outdoor patio area.
Klenert also stressed that, in running as an openly LGBT person, a candidate is representing not only himself or herself, but the larger community. Because of the risks posed by online technology, he recommended that candidates clean up or delete any public profiles on social networking sites, dating or hookup apps, or other online aliases before tossing their hat into the ring.
Garcia, in moderating the meeting, also asked candidates to consider whether their candidacy is viable, particularly in a case where they would be challenging an incumbent commissioner. He also stressed the importance of running for altruistic reasons, such as wanting to help the surrounding community or because of passion about certain neighborhood issues, not just to assume power or to settle personal grudges with neighbors.
While ANC candidates may pick up nominating petitions to get on the ballot on July 7, and only have to get the signatures of 25 registered voters living in their SMD by Aug. 6, Jacobson suggested that all candidates exceed the number of required signatures, as other candidates or residents will often try to challenge various candidates’ qualifications or get some of their signatures thrown out.
Having a website also helps, Jacobson added, as it gives a candidate an air of legitimacy among voters.
“It shows you have skin in the game,” he said of setting up a candidate website, although he added that “less is more,” meaning a candidate should not overwhelm voters with an abundance of information on said website.
Klenert also said candidates need to consider that ANC races often get drowned out by other, larger races appearing on the November ballot, which is why it’s important to get out and attempt to meet all the registered voters in an SMD. Otherwise, literature drops — assuming a candidate has raised enough campaign cash to distribute fliers or literature — will get lost among other mailers and end up being “recycled” by overwhelmed voters.
Following the meeting, about six prospective candidates stayed around to ask further questions of the organizers. Most felt that the training session, while short, answered some of their basic questions and provided them with enough information to mull over whether to pursue their candidacies.
Prospective candidates included Brian Footer and Omeed Tabiei, two LeDroit Park residents considering running for the 1B01 seat currently occupied by Marc Morgan, who is running as a Republican for one of two at-large seats on the D.C. Council. When asked whether they would run against each other, both answered that they were talking amongst themselves to see what issues they feel are important.
“This has gotten us into the spirit of running,” Footer said of the candidate training. He expressed a commitment to public service, pointing to his involvement with the LeDroit Park Civic Association, and said he would be able to rely on his background working on aging issues for the city, particularly since the LeDroit Park neighborhood is one of the city’s most historic districts and is home to many seniors who have owned their current properties for decades.
Tabiei said he has attended his local ANC meetings and feels very well versed in the issues affecting his neighborhood. Tabiei, whose background includes voter registration efforts, said he wants to represent the people and fight on behalf of their concerns as ANC commissioner.
Other candidates seconded the sentiment that the informational meeting was worthwhile.
“It was very helpful,” said Jose “Joe” Barrios, a Brookland resident considering running for ANC 5B04. “It gave us an opportunity to meet other people in the same boat. We need to increase LGBT representation on the ANCs in all eight wards.”
Peoples, speaking on behalf of the Stein Club, also labeled the meeting a success and said that the club will seek to hold similar meetings in the future to encourage prospective candidates to seek similar leadership positions.
“I think the training was great,” Peoples told Metro Weekly. “I was impressed to see the turnout. …I think it shows there is a diverse group of people who are interested in engaging in their community in different ways.”