Housing Complex

Who’s Entitled to Full Representation in Georgetown?

What the adults want.

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).

The kids' plan.

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

  • Political Observer

    It's not helpful to their case or the cause to call them "kids.". They are to a great extent adults, albeit young adults. However, a friend pointed out to me the changing demographics of colleges nowadays. Due to economic times more 30+ are in college and GU should use this as a bridge to the residents, not to mention the taxes paid by students when eating and shopping. Can we compare retail taxes and property taxes?

  • Topher Mathews

    Just for the record: That guy suggesting the "one real estate tax bill-one vote" criteria was from Burleith, not Georgetown.

    I think it's a testament to my wishy-washiness that each side cited my article as supporting them. Or maybe it isn't.

  • Mrs. D

    So the absentee landlords who allow these "kids" (that's pretty offensive, BTW) to live in squalor should have a vote? After all, they pay property taxes. I bet THEIR interests align perfectly with that guy's.

  • Skipper

    I love the fact that a particular real estate agent who's quite active in opposing anything the university does is also quite happy to sell homes to non-DC residents to rent out to GU students.

  • Lydia DePillis

    To anyone who was offended by my use of the term "kid," please know that I still call most of my friends kids.

  • cottontails

    Those who are offended by the term "kids" either haven't had a conversation with a Georgetown undergrad in a while, or are one themselves.

  • Ben M.

    Lydia, it's offensive because that's the heart of the issue. These "non-students" look at "students" strictly as kids and don't treat them with the respect they deserve. Fact of the matter is, those "kids" are an integral part of the neighborhood and city as a whole. Ageism is a big problem and needs to be addressed.

    Young people these days are allowed a freedom never before experienced in this country. It's a double edged sword. But a simple high-support, high-expectations community model can ensure a harmonic relationship between all dwellers of Georgetown. Didn't a lot of these "non-students" go to business school? Don't they know how to form quality relationships? Here's a suggestion for you folks having issues with your "student" neighbors (a term being used to qualify anyone between 18-30 living in Georgetown). Knock on their door and introduce yourself. Take initiative. You don't like that they just roam your neighborhood? Perhaps it's a disconnect with the fact that they live in a real neighborhood, not a college campus. Maybe a little conversation and unity would go a long way.

    Young adults, although they are adults, still need some guidance from older generations. They don't have to listen to you, but my guess is those hold outs would quickly change their tune as the vast majority of the intelligent young people attending Georgetown would come to a rational agreement with the larger community if the were only treated with respect.

    And the bottom line is this. The university isn't going anywhere so while you own that nice little overpriced rowhouse and certainly have a right to an opinion, you'll make so many more friends and get so much more accomplished with a smile. Just a suggestion.

    On a side note, how is it ironic that students side with the university on most off-campus matters? You obviously were never involved in student leadership at your school because that's a basic rule in building relationships at universities. Fundamental even.

  • Jeff

    Topher--Lydia cited your article as a reference for more detailed numbers, not "as supporting" her position, unless you grant that merely citing the egregiously unequal numbers is taking a position.

    I think the GU students' impatience with the rest of the meeting subjects is all the more reason for them to have fair representation. One reason we have a republic, not a Greek-style democracy, is that most of us are too busy and/or ill-informed to have a hand in every last detail of governance, so we pick a few people we think share our values to go do it for us, and check in on them now and then. Geriatric NIMBYs standing athwart every good idea for DC's development, shouting "stop", already do a great job over-representing their views at ANC meetings every week. We don't need to steal representatives from the silent, pro-growth/pro-improvement residents to give the NIMBYs bonus representation.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Damn, according to commenters, I'm ageist against both young people and old people. Which I guess just makes me a misanthrope.


    And no, Ben M., I wasn't involved in student government in college. Where I went to school, though, students were more vocal opposing the university's expansion than supporting it.


  • GT

    I think a decent metric by which to illustrate just how "concerned" and "involved" these kids are, would be to see how many bothered to register to vote in the District.

    I drive through GT and see countless homes rented to students with their cars parked outside, none of them bothered to follow District law and get their vehicle registered in the District.

    The same students who claim they are year long fixtures in the District and consequently deserve equal representation, get jobs in the summer, yet can't be bothered to claim District residency on their taxes, claiming instead to still be residents of Ohio, NC, etc...anywhere with lower income taxes than the District. How do I know, I have a business in GT that hires lots of seasonal work, and I get dozens of applicants from GT or GW every year. I can count on one hand, the number over the past 12 years that truthfully claimed District residency from the onset. Of course, they all get sheepish and either change their info, or decide not to follow through when I ask them how they intend on commuting from Erie PA for the next three months, as they've apparently been doing for the last nine?

    One wonders how interested and attached one can be to a place when they go to extrordinary efforts to "stay off the books", not to pay any taxes, registration fees, serve on jury duty or otherwise follow through with any of the responsibilities inherent in actually being a resident of a place?

    So in a nutshell, this effort by the students of Georgetown is not borne out of actual sincere interest in their neighborhood, ANC or the actual functioning of the District, but as a "Im a kid, hear me roar" or "I'll show them"

  • John

    Good point...but let's not stop there. Many, many adults in DC do the exact same thing with residency, especially the political class that inhabits Georgetown and other wealthy NW enclaves. My old boss came from New England and had been living in DC exclusively for THIRTY YEARS, but wanted to maintain his old residency for "sentimental" reasons. Hm.

  • Urbanette

    @John ditto my 50-something neighbors with the Delaware plates. They seem to be around and working in DC most of the year, just gone weekends in the summer. Hmmm.

  • Jacques

    As one of your (apparent) neighbors, I think it's worthwhile to ask how many of those with out-of-state plates are students.

    GU students are not able to claim registration reciprocity with DC, and if they want to be able to park in residential zones, must register their cars in DC. (Or else, must move their cars every two hours during any residential parking restrictions, which are applicable in about 90% of DC blocks).

    Congressional staffers, on the other hand (as @John mentioned), of which there are plenty in Georgetown, Burleith, and Glover Park (and who make up a significantly larger portion of DC than off-campus GU students) have the ability to maintain their out-of-state residence and get reciprocity stickers for their cars, allowing them to park in residential zones with impunity.

    While I'm sure it's easier to lump all people under age 30 (or so) into one category, this tendency certainly explains why many students feel that their views are underrepresented.

  • Dane

    "Kids" is not an appropriate term here. I'm not sure your editor would have allowed you to refer to the ANC as "geezers" or "card carrying AARP members".

    As to GT, his claims about cars without DC plates is questionable--Georgetown undergraduates are not allowed cars. Maybe you need to aim your conspiracy at the Hill staffers and lobbyists that flaunt the DMV rules, not these, um, "kids".

  • NE John

    Personally, I take glee at any hardships suffered by G people. I remember back in the day when they opposed having a METRO subway stop. That said a lot about these people.

    But, as long as the students are adults (over 18), established residents of DC (whatever the legal requirements are), DC taxpayers (if appropriate) and do not vote outside of DC (in their "home towns"), thre is nothing wrong at all with youthful participation, unless you are afraid of Max Frost!

  • zip line thru the ceiling

    Sounds like the Flanagan plan flew through the window running from the mpd. Is this the kind of leaders student commissioners will be bringing to community?

  • Dizzy

    Whether or not John Flanagan acted like an idiot has nothing to do with the question of whether equitable ANC representation. As to whether or not "this the kind of leaders student commissioners will be bringing to community," I'd take even someone like Flanagan over the thoroughly corrupt, conflict-of-interest riddled, and retrograde people on the ANC now.

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