Metro Weekly

ANC Bumper Crop

Nearly 1 out of 9 people seeking election to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions is LGBT

Almost 11 percent of candidates, or one out of every nine, who are seeking a seat on their Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) are LGBT, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that seeks to elect out LGBT people to office.

According to a list compiled by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, 396 people have filed a declaration of candidacy and submitted at least 25 signatures from registered voters to run for 274 of 296 “single-member district” (SMD) seats on their respective ANCs. Twenty-two other seats — in every ward except Ward 6 — currently have no candidate running, though prospective candidates can still attempt a write-in candidacy for those or any other of the 296 seats between now and November.

Created in 1976, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are local entities filled with elected representatives tasked with representing the views and concerns of their individual neighborhoods to policymakers including the D.C. Council, the mayor’s office, and other government agencies. They cover hyper-local issues such as zoning, economic development, sanitation, and parking. Each ward has about four to six separate ANCs, and each ANC may have as few as two and as many as 12 SMDs that comprise it.

John Klenert, a member of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s campaign board who was active in recruiting candidates to run for various ANCs, places the number of openly LGBT ANC candidates in the low- to mid-40s, meaning that if all were successfully elected, LGBT people would constitute almost one-sixth of commissioners.

Klenert, as a representative of the Victory Fund, had previously held informational “training forums” along with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s top LGBT political organization, to educate potential ANC candidates about the position of the ANC and the commitment it requires.

“We did get folks to come to the training,” Klenert says. “Not as many as I was hoping for, but I told [Stein Club Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs] Martin [Garcia] that we waited too long to hold the candidate training sessions.” He adds that they did not keep a tally of names and contact information for those candidates who attended the sessions.

Klenert feels more than 40 out of 296 seats is a pretty good participation rate for LGBT candidates, and also notes that other LGBT people could wage write-in campaigns, particularly in those 22 ANC SMDs where no one has filed.

The Victory Fund has helped recruit candidates in all wards of the city, including Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River. Some ANCs have an abundance of LGBT candidates, such as ANC 1B, which includes the southern part of Columbia Heights and Pleasant Plains, much of the U Street NW corridor and Ledroit Park, where eight openly LGBT candidates are running.

“They could have their own happy hour,” Klenert says of 1B.

According to a Metro Weekly analysis of candidates who filed, there is at least one openly gay candidate running in all but one ANC in five of the city’s wards. In wards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, the only ANCs without at least one openly gay candidate are 1D, in Mount Pleasant; 2D, in the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood; 3B, in Glover Park; 4B, in Takoma; and 6C, which covers the area around Union Station and Near Northeast heading down H Street NE corridor, which has been labeled by real estate developers in recent years as the “NoMa” neighborhood.

In contrast, there are only four openly gay candidates running in the city’s remaining three wards: one in Ward 5, one in Ward 8 and two in Ward 7. All three wards had a significant amount of opposition to the marriage equality bill that passed in 2009 and went into effect in 2010, and have been the site of some, though not all, anti-LGBT violent attacks in recent years. However, there is also a substantial and growing LGBT community that has moved into those areas over the past decade, particularly Ward 5, which stretches through the Bloomingdale, Eckington, Brookland and Woodridge neighborhoods along Rhode Island Avenue.

Openly gay ANC Commissioner Lee Brian Reba, who is running for re-election unopposed in the Woodley Park/National Zoo neighborhood, says that while having LGBT representation in government is nice, candidates for ANC need to realize the amount of time they have to dedicate to being a public servant.

“Some people become ANC commissioners without doing the research, or knowing all the time commitments, or personal and professional sacrifices they’ll have to make,” he says. “It means giving up weekends, giving up your free time, being called to testify before the Council, do research on issues, and outreach to your constituents.”

Reba says that it would behoove all candidates, even those running unopposed, to talk to their neighbors and people in their SMD, since they are supposed to advocate on behalf of whatever their constituents’ concerns are.

“We’re the first line of contact for government representation,” he says. “We’re the last person you’ll vote for on the ballot, but the most important you’ll vote for within your community.”

That’s the ethic that Jose “Joe” Barrios has embraced in his run for ANC 5B04 in Brookland. Barrios, running under the slogan “Bringing Brookland Together,” has noted his experience working with the community on several contentious local issues. He touts that he stepped in to help mediate a conflict over the liquor licensing for a restaurant known as Brookland’s Finest, which the incumbent ANC commissioner, Carolyn Steptoe, had tried to stop. Steptoe is not running for re-election this year, having lost to incumbent Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie in the Democratic primary for his Ward 5 seat.

Barrios loaned his legal talent to help neighbors form a 501(c)(3) organization known as Friends of Noyes Park, which partners with the Department of Parks and Recreation on the maintenance and upkeep of Noyes Park. He also worked with other neighbors, the mayor’s office, and McDuffie to negotiate a land swap with WMATA in which the local transportation agency would get two other pieces of land in exchange for turning over a piece of land known as the “Brookland Green,” and other parcels of land abutting the Brookland Metro Station.

“Brookland is a neighborhood in transition,” Barrios says. “We need strong leadership, someone with a proven record of working with everyone in the community to forge solutions that work.”

Robb Hudson, a new candidate seeking election in 1B11, also sees his neighborhood going through a period of great growth and change. Hudson decided to run after incumbent commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness opted to run for the State Board of Education. Even though he is currently unopposed, Hudson says he has already begun talks with local business owners in his SMD, which also covers Howard University’s campus.

Hudson acknowledges that there has recently been criticism of the way ANCs operate and calls for them to disband. He doesn’t buy the idea that eliminating ANCs would make government more efficient, calling that view “woefully misguided.”

“The ANCs are the easiest way to get in touch with local government and have someone advocating for you,” he says. “Getting rid of them would cause people so much grief having to deal with problems,” ranging from trash pickup to enforcement of noise from nightclubs or drinking establishments, which would otherwise have to be fielded by the 13 members of the D.C. Council.

“If there are problems, we need to fix them to make sure our ANCs work effectively,” Hudson says. “They do much more good than not.”

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