Candidates in the Advisory Neighborhood Commission races to be decided at the polls Tuesday, say the contests have become very much like the grassroots government itself -- hot in some places and cold in others.
All the seats are up for election. With more than one candidate competing for the same seat in 46 single-member districts and no one running in 159 others, this election has more contests as well as blanks than ever before, said D.C. elections administrator Mary S. Rodgers.
Created in 1975 under home rule, the ANC commissioners are elected by D.C. residents to act as a link between city hall and the community. The position is unpaid.
There are 36 commissions citywide and 367 singlemember district seats, within the commissions. The elected officials, called commissioners, have the responsibility to review virtually all projects and proposals -- such as rezoning issues -- that affect neighborhoods.
One of the blanks on the ballot Tuesday is district 7a04, a vacant lot in the Kenilworth area of Northeast. Rodgers said she does not know why the lot is listed as an ANC district.
Ward 1 voters will also find the two ANC candidates -- Anwar Saleem and James Curry -- are running concurrently for the D.C. school board.Rodgers said, although they can legally only hold one elected office.
This election marks the first time the ANC's have been tainted by scandal.
Last week Major Hampton, the former commissioner for single-member district 5c08 in Northeast, pleaded guilty to embezzling over $30,000 in funds from the commission.
More typical of the commission's problems are concerns involving finances and a poor image in the Washington community.
This year, federal funding has been withheld from the 16 single-member districts in commissions 5-b because the ANC underspent its allocation and has more than two years funding left, D.C. auditor Matthew S. Watson said.
"That's the kind of commission that caused Congress to cut the money," he said, explaining that the ANCs have never received full funding because they have always underspent their budgets. ybudgets are routinely cut if the full allocation is not spent because the assumption is that all the money is not needed.
In the image department, Lillian Adkins Sedgwick, special assistant on ANCs said, "The (D.C.) department heads have not been responsive to ANCs (because) there's a general attitude that the ANCs are not to be taken seriously." Mayor Marion Barry has committed himself to resolving that problem, she said.
The major issue in this ANC election, however, has been finding candidates to run.
Charles Richardson Jr., commissioner of single-member district 2c19 in Shaw, said he was talked into seeking a third term because no one else wanted the job. Carol Currie Gidley, commissioner of district 3e02 in the Friendship Heights-American University Park area, circumvented community threats to draft her as a write-in candidate by sending letters to the 853 households in her district asking someone else to run. Two people are seeking her seat.
Dupont Circle residents, however, were pleased to find that Susan Meehan, commissioner of district 2b05, can't get enough of the job.
"I've been my neighborhood's ombudsman officially, or unofficially, for many years," said Meehan, who is seeking a third term unchallenged. "I like being an ANC (commissioner)."
Unlike former members of the D.C. school board, commissioners have not used the office as a political springboard. But they've tried.
Despite many attempts, no ANC commissioner has run successfully for higher office, though four school board candidates who are, or were commissioners, are currently trying.
Perhaps the harshest criticism of the ANCs that some of the commission are unknown and ineffective.
Everett Scott, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, said some of the commissions tend to act in a vacuum. Viola Bowen, commissioner of single-member district 8b05 in Anacostia, complains of poor community turnouts at ANC meetings.
Walter Byard, the commissioner in district 7c03 in Deanwood, said he's not seeking a third term because he's found too many ANC colleague's are unqualified or unwilling to do any work.
Reflecting on the hot and cold history, of the group, Sedgwick said she has recently drafted a proposal to the mayor with specific guidelines for training and evaluating the ANCs. In the future, consultants may also be used to help strength the ANCs, she said.