Rookie ANC official Pugh's efforts part of rising civic energy in Southeast D.C.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 12:17 AM

When Nicole Pugh stepped into the voting booth in November, she had two things on her mind: Vote for mayor and go about her usual Tuesday business.

Then she got curious: What was this Advisory Neighborhood Commission on the ballot?

So, after some quick reading - and feeling a little whimsical - Pugh wrote her name on the ballot for her local ANC district, 8E01. What could be the harm?

A week later, she learned that her impulse had turned her into a local politician. Her lone vote put her in charge of a district that hadn't been represented in 14 years.

Call her the accidental commissioner.

"I just walked in and said, 'Hmmm what's this?' " Pugh recalled on a recent Saturday morning, chuckling at the fact that she didn't knock on any doors, copy any fliers or kiss any babies to get the job. "I read a little bit about what the seat was about and then just wrote my name in. Who knew?"

For Pugh, a self-titled policy wonk, joining the lowest rung of D.C. politics means attending endless meetings and no extra money. But she does get a city pass that allows her to park for free almost anywhere she wants when she is on ANC business.

"I don't have one regret," said Pugh, 32, a Denver native who moved to Washington in 2003. "For some reason I find this reeeally fun."

Two months into her term as her district's new commissioner, Pugh is taking on the unexpected role with enthusiasm. She attends as many meetings as her schedule allows, with young Democrats or at the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus to discuss the construction of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. She takes meticulous notes on her iPad and uploads them to her new ANC blog.

And because she didn't know much about the commissions before she wrote herself in, she has visited ANC meetings from Georgetown to U Street, figuring out how the panels work and how commissioners run them.

After two morning meetings recently, Pugh walked her district, passing out fliers that announced a coming meeting. The streets were empty that afternoon, and she didn't have a single conversation with a constituent. "I figured I didn't really know what I was doing, so I'd better get out and figure out how commissioners do what they do," she said.

Pugh's efforts are part of a growing civic energy east of the Anacostia River, largely fueled by those who bought homes in new housing developments over the past decade. Since 2000, more than 9,000 units have been built in the area, often designed for low or moderate incomes.

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