It used to be that residents who wanted a seat on their local advisory neighborhood commission would just get their names on the ballot and remind friends and neighbors to vote on Election Day.
The really competitive sorts might photocopy some fliers or introduce themselves door-to-door in their single-member districts.
This year, however, some candidates are waging vigorous campaigns, debating their challengers in community meetings, plastering their neighborhoods with glossy posters and handing out trendy buttons and bumper stickers to win these two-year volunteer posts.
"This year in some single-member districts they are more sophisticated than ever," said Jim Zais, Ward 2 coordinator in the mayor's office.
Candidates said one reason is that after 15 years, residents have become more aware of their ANCs. Others point to the number of people who have launched careers from these posts, including D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) and WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin.
"It has moved the level of competition to a much higher level than I've ever seen before," said first-term commissioner Lawrence T. Guyot Jr., who faces two write-in challengers.
Unique to this city, the grass-roots commissions, established under home rule, advise the D.C. Council and appointed boards on everything from liquor licenses to bus routes and development proposals in their neighborhoods. City officials are required by law to give their positions great weight.
Although roughly the same number of ANC candidates as usual will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, there is heated competition in many areas.
Dennis E. Gaugler, a one-term commissioner in Dupont Circle who is being challenged by newcomers Ron Millar and Daniel Francis Callahan, has plastered 100 white and emerald posters up and down the streets of his neighborhood.
"Several of the commissioners looked at me and said, 'How could you afford to do something like that?' " said Gaugler, who refused to cite the cost. "It's no different from any other political campaign."
In Logan Circle, first-time ANC candidate John J. Fanning Jr. has designed what is believed to be the first ANC election bumper sticker: 200 navy and white reminders to "Vote for Fanning for ANC."
Fanning, who is running against 12th street newcomer Paul E. Von Donop, is zealous in his efforts. He has converted the kitchen of his apartment into a campaign headquarters with stacks of press clippings, campaign signs and voter district maps.
"I went to the Logan Circle potluck and . . . I felt a little embarrassed because I thought maybe they thought I had gone too far," he said.
Ron Fried, 31, a newcomer to his neighborhood from another part of town, is running against incumbent Charles F. Holzwarth Jr. to represent Central Glover Park. Fried spent $200 for 1,500 photo fliers to introduce himself to his neighbors. He also is going door-to-door and planning a mailing to all 1,000 registered voters in his district. On Election Day, he will have supporters stationed at the polls.
"I'm working hard," said Fried, a professional lobbyist. "I certainly don't take anybody's vote for granted . . . . I'd like to see if I can become involved and give something back to the community."
Even some candidates running unopposed have upgraded their campaign styles to ensure voter support. "When you have a good mandate behind you, it makes it easier to govern," said Jack Evans, a two-term Dupont Circle ANC commissioner who is spending about $50 on red and white posters for his no-contest reelection bid.
Admittedly he has an ulterior motive for getting his name and face before the public this year, he said. He has said he will run for the seat of D.C. Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) in a special election in the spring should Wilson win his bid to become council chairman.
Albert Pearsall III, a one-term commissioner in Anacostia, also is running unopposed. Yet evenings and weekends, his wife, Keena, is out in the family car on a public address system encouraging people to support her husband.
"She does it for me and for other candidates she's supporting," he said.
Still, many commissioners said they will continue to rely on the strength of their reputations to carry them into office.
George A. Boyd, a commissioner in Trinidad since ANCs were established, has never mounted a campaign because he has never had opposition. "I volunteer on the average of about four hours a workday," said Boyd, a retired federal worker. "I'm trying to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood."
And not everyone likes the idea of increasingly sophisticated tactics in ANC campaigns.
"These things are kind of sad," said Dupont Circle challenger Millar. "I think it's more important that ANC commissioners are elected because of their reputation in the neighborhood and not because of what kind of politicians they are."