Who’s Entitled to Full Representation in Georgetown?
After overdosing on ward redistricting, I haven't been able to muster the interest to venture into the process of redrawing their constituent parts—Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and individual single member districts. It's been a hot topic in the newly expanded Ward 6, naturally, and to a certain extent elsewhere. ANC redistricting is the smallest-bore form of local politics: With which 2,000 residents are you going to share a representative, and what parts of a neighborhood will be more powerful than others?
Georgetown, though, has a more philosophical question to deal with than personal micro-politics. Other neighborhoods are divided by race and class, but the currently all-white, all-male ANC 2E represents two intrinsically different types of citizens: Students and non-students. As civically engaged as many students may be, the majority stick around for only part of the year and most likely not after they graduate, giving them fundamentally different interests from the people who've chosen Georgetown or Burleith as places to live for the longer term.
As you might imagine, the adults of Georgetown who get involved with ANC redistricting—who happen to be the same ones battling Georgetown University's campus plan—have sought to minimize student representation, packing most campus housing into two very large single member districts, out of eight total. That's an increase from the status quo, in which only one student commissioner will be reliably elected. But the students insist it's still unfair to stick 45 percent of the ANC's population with only 25 percent of the commissioners, and have devised a plan that would give students a majority in three districts, which strikes fear in the hearts of those adults who might wind up being represented by someone still young enough to shotgun a beer (for more on the numbers, read Topher Mathews).
One of the interesting ironies here is how students, while fighting their administration on intra-campus issues, become aligned with the university when it comes to battling the neighbors for more undergraduate housing, routing for the buses that shuttle students around town, etc. While voting on this decade's campus plan is already over, to the extent that the ANC has any influence over how things go at the Zoning Commission, having a triumvirate of student representatives on the commission next time rather than one or even two could weaken the neighbors' hand.
Naturally, the discourse is dominated by extreme perspectives. One guy, who introduced himself at an ANC meeting last night by saying he'd lived in Burleith* since 1954 and his family had been there since 1928, argued that those who pay property taxes should have greater representation than those who don't. Despite the fact that basing representation on land ownership hasn't been popular since Roman times, he received healthy applause from the grayer-haired members of the audience.
On the other hand, students demand full representation, to which they're entitled by D.C. human rights law, even though they so far haven't demonstrated much appetite for it—the current student commissioner won his seat with nine votes, out of 1,536 total cast in the ANC. Electoral participation also isn't a criterion for apportioning legislative districts, but the lack of it also doesn't strengthen the kids' case (nor does having all the students who came just for the redistricting part of the ANC meeting get up and leave when the agenda moves on to the actual issues that the ANC deals with, like sign permits and zoning variances).
It's great to see students involved in the civic life of the city. And fundamentally, it's a dangerous game to start asking which residents should have more representation than others, so I'd err on the side of equality.
I just hope students are as fired up about actual issues as they are about how many people they get to elect to the ANC.
* Not Georgetown