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Residents Decry Georgetown Students' ANC Bids

By Julie Goodman
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 26, 1996; Page J01

As Election Day approaches, most eyes are on the D.C. Council and Board of Education races, not to mention the presidential contest. But in Georgetown, a real political fight is brewing at the Advisory Neighborhood Commission level.

Georgetown University students sparked a controversy by putting two of their own on the ballot for ANC seats. When residents learned of the news, one ANC commissioner drew up a flier warning students about the possible consequences of registering as D.C. voters. That, in turn, led students to ask the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to launch an investigation.

In the spring, Campaign Georgetown, the school's voter registration drive, supported an effort by two juniors, Rebecca Sinderbrand and James Fogarty, both 19, to get on the Nov. 5 ballot. The idea was to give Georgetown students a voice in local issues; students have been upset by what they consider to be a rash of restrictive decisions on parking and zoning affecting their lives. But residents say students can't possibly understand the wide range of long-term issues that concern the neighborhood. Six ANC districts encompass parts of the university.

The District's Home Rule Charter calls for the resolutions and decisions of advisory neighborhood commissions to carry "great weight" when the city's boards and commissions make decisions. Commissioners serve two-year terms and are unsalaried and nonpartisan.

The level of interest in the Georgetown ANC races is unconventional, D.C. Board of Election officials say; citywide, fewer candidates are running for ANC positions than in years past. As of the Sept. 6 filing deadline, 83 of the city's 299 seats had no candidates. And although university students have run for ANC offices before, Georgetown administrators could not recall any election that has generated such controversy.

After the students' decision to run was reported in the campus newspaper, ANC commissioner Westy Byrd (2E) wrote a flier warning students about the possible consequences of registering to vote. Georgetown residents distributed several hundred copies in dormitories and student houses.

The flier told students that registering to vote in the District could cause them to lose grant money from their home states. The fliers also stated that students must pay D.C. income taxes, obtain D.C. driver's licenses and register their cars in the District. Also, students' Zone Two parking stickers would be revoked, the flier said.

Students said they felt angered and intimidated by the flier, and they questioned its accuracy.

According to the D.C. Board of Elections, to vote in the District, a person must be a U.S. citizen, must live in the District and cannot vote in another state. If students are D.C. residents and are employed in the city, they must pay D.C. income taxes. The D.C. Department of Public Works said a driver who wishes to become a resident has 30 days to obtain a D.C. driver's license and register his or her vehicle with the city.

Once students have established D.C. residency, they may lose grants from their home states. However, only seven states grant need-based scholarships to students.

Byrd, who is running unopposed in her ANC district, said that she supports students' right to vote but that they should know they will be treated the same as other residents if they register to vote in the city.

"They have every right to participate in the political process," Byrd said. "What I object to is if students somehow think they are going to be treated differently from all the residents. The laws that apply to one resident apply to all residents."

Students have questioned Byrd's actions regarding the flier, noting that the copying fees initially were billed to an ANC account. Byrd later said that the copying costs were temporarily billed to the account because she had left her checkbook at home. Byrd said she promptly reimbursed the ANC account after returning home.

Dan Leistikow, chairman of Campaign Georgetown, has called on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the city's Office of Campaign Finance to determine if the fliers were intentionally misleading or intimidating. The board is reviewing the request.

Students say several issues that are in the hands of ANCs affect the school, including a bill to limit students' parking privileges, a zoning overlay proposal that would limit the occupants of any residence to three unrelated habitants, and a proposal for a day-care center that students say residents have opposed.

"It's really difficult when a certain faction of the neighborhood won't let us get our message out," Sinderbrand said. "I had no idea they had so much power. I had no idea they could affect our lives they way they have."

Residents say they are concerned with the density of the neighborhood and frown upon any increase in trash, noise and cars.

"The students' concerns are different from the concerns of the people who live here year in and year out," Byrd said, adding that students cannot adequately respond to problems such as sewer backups, fallen trees and mistaken parking tickets. "It's those types of problems that residents aren't going to have anybody to call."

Byrd said it is up to the school's administration to address student concerns. "Who's not taking responsibility for the students? The university," she said. "It's university policies that are pushing the university out into the neighborhood."

Campaign Georgetown has registered more than 800 students -- about 13 percent of the undergraduate student body -- since April, and the university administration has supported the students in their effort to get elected. The university has said it will help students cover any financial aid they lose as a result of registering to vote -- a pledge that doesn't sit well with Byrd, who says it's tantamount to "buying a vote."

But university spokeswoman Sandra Hvidsten said of the aid: "It's not by any means a cash hand-out. If a student's financial need changes, we'll still work with them to adjust their package again to meet that."

James Donahue, dean of students, said: "There have always been tensions between the university and the community. I think that in the recent past, we have all tried to make improvements in these relations.

"We're trying to educate our students to be good citizens as part of our mission here."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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