In D.C., many angling for public office on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions

More people in the District, especially east of the Anacostia River, are tired of sitting on the sidelines where their quality of life is concerned. So they're running for seats on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a sometimes thankless job. Two of those candidates are Lisa White and Charles Fuller.
By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 9:22 PM

She won't get paid for her efforts and will probably find herself embroiled in a nasty neighborhood spat or two over the next couple of years.

But none of that is deterring Lisa White from stepping out of the shadows and running for her local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a sometimes thankless job.

"It was time to take a stand . . . time for a change," said White, 38, a fourth-generation Washingtonian running for a Ward 7 seat. She's been active in her Kingman Park neighborhood but wants a say in the new development that's arriving.

In the District, it's the first rung of elected office. And over the past two election cycles, there has been a steady increase in competitive races in these small district races, especially east of the Anacostia River. Candidates include new residents and longtime Washingtonians who say they were inspired by President Obama's 2008 election and the grassroots campaign run by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in 2006.

"Can't sit on the sidelines anymore," said White, who works for the D.C. government and decided to run after a disagreement over a community garden.

Created in 1976, the commissions provides citizen input to D.C. Council members and other city officials on issues ranging from zoning, economic development, crime and safety to street improvements, trash collection, parking and recreation.

In many cases, being a commissioner leads to higher office: Several current members of the D.C. Council are former commissioners, including Fenty.

Gottleib Simon, who is executive director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, said that interest ebbs and flows. But nearly every challenger interviewed for this article said that they wanted to be a part of positive change in their community.

"I've been out of the loop for a while, but it seemed like a good time to get re-engaged," said David White, 52, a retired fireman who previously served on his ANC in Anacostia. "I thought there were some things I could do better" than the current leadership, he added.

'Next wave of leaders'

Each ward has a commission that is broken down into individual districts. Each of the districts serves 1,600 to 2,000 residents. The commissioners are volunteers, but each body receives about $1.20 per resident - money that can be used to rent meeting space and run small programs in the community.

Some commissions have been notoriously ineffective, with residents complaining that they were unaware of who their commissioners were or what function they served. In addition, the city auditor recently has found misuse of funds by one local commission and failure to follow the letter of District law by another.

Candidates are finding that the races are fiercely competitive.

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