Where are the adults in redistricting debate?

Photo by D.C. Government
Current ANC Single Member Districts
Current ANC Single Member Districts

In the debate between Georgetown University students and representatives of the Burleith and West Georgetown neighborhoods over redrawing the ANC 2E's single member districts, it's clear that the students are acting like adults and the "adults" are acting like children.

Author Paul Musgrave is a Georgetown University graduate student (Photo by: Courtesy) Author Paul Musgrave is a Georgetown University graduate student
The first rule of good citizenship is realizing that you have to play by the rules---that special exceptions don't exist for you. That's doubly true when you hold a public office, whether that office is president, senator, or neighborhood advisory commissioner. Well designed rules work to ensure fairness, but even poorly designed rules are better than having no rules at all.

Yet ANC Chairman Ron Lewis and the other proponents of the so-called co-chairs' proposal for remaking the single-member districts (SMDs) are convinced that the rules don't apply to them. That's true both metaphorically, in the sense that they fundamentally don't believe in fair play for all residents of this community, but also literally, in that they have flagrantly disregarded the clear letter and intent of the relevant statutes.

The stakes are clear. Will Georgetown students be gerrymandered out of their fair share of representation? Or will the community build an institution that can work to resolve our problems instead of making them worse?

Lewis, Burleith Citizens Association leader Lenore Rubino and Citizens Association of Georgetown president Jennifer Altemus have chosen the latter. Their plan would restrict Georgetown students to only two seats on an eight-member commission. They have achieved this result by drawing district boundaries that are wildly malapportioned. The proposed University districts have 2,500 residents each within their borders, while other districts throughout the ANC have only 1,700--or even fewer.

The co-chairs proposed this arrangement despite the clear rule that districts must contain 2,000 residents, plus or minus 200, and that there cannot be a disparity of more than 10 percent between the largest and the smallest districts within an ANC. Lewis has justified this outcome on two bases. First, he claims, the statute allows for the districts to be drawn to represent neighborhood cohesiveness and the integrity of community life. Consequently, he argues, Burleith should be treated as one unit, and the campus as another one. Second, Lewis believes that it is fundamentally unjust for non-students to be represented by students, and for students to be represented by non-students.

Neither of these arguments is sufficient reason for breaking the statute. And neither of them is even internally consistent.

The statue does allow for neighborhood cohesion to be taken into account. But that is not an excuse for breaking the law's clear numerical targets. And such cohesion is often somewhat illusory. Why do students living on 37th Street have less to do with their compatriots living along O Street? What strong connection do the residents of Hillandale have with the apartment-dwellers adjacent to the Corcoran?

Nor does Lewis' claim about representation hold water. I am both a Burleith resident and a graduate student. In many ways, I share the concerns of members of the Burleith Citizens Association about noise, about trash violations, and about parties that get out of hand. But I also have an interest in maintaining frequent and convenient transit by GUTS bus between the campus and Dupont Circle and in knowing that 19-year-olds' careers won't be tarnished by an MPD noise violation.

Most of all, I want to know that the ANC will treat me and my fellow students, both graduate and undergraduate, with respect. Were I to reach out to my commissioner, would he dismiss my complaint out of hand because I'm not a property owner? The attitude that Lewis and many other proponents of the plan have displayed suggests that is exactly what would happen.

At each stage of the process, the co-chairs have sought to clothe a fundamentally unjust plan in a pretense of collaboration. Students served on the redistricting committee, but their sensible, constructive, and moderate proposals were rejected out of hand. Students showed up to the August 30 ANC meeting and were prepared to engage the commissioners in a civil  discussion about the merits of the co-chairs' plan, but the ANC bizarrely and without warning decided to limit public discussion on this crucial issue to 22 minutes--the length of a standard television sitcom.

On one level, I can understand the co-chairs' concerns. They want a quiet and clean neighborhood. So do I. I'm writing a dissertation, after all. But the co-chairs' reflexive opposition to all student input has blinded them to the most constructive way to achieve that goal, which is not ever tighter control of students' lives or ever-stiffer resistance to anodyne University proposals. Those attitudes promote a zero-sum approach to neighborhood affairs that is guaranteed only to make the

Instead, it's time for the co-chairs and others to meet with students to design an ANC that fairly represents all parties--not just because it's the law, but because it's the right, and the mature, thing to do.

Paul Musgrave is a Ph.D. student in Government at Georgetown University. He moved to Washington from Yorba Linda, Calif., where he was special assistant to the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. A 2004 graduate of Indiana University, he was a
George Mitchell Scholar at University College Dublin.

0 Comments For This Article

Anonymous

Students issues should be resolved by the university. Not the ANC. I'd like an example of an issue where a student needs the ANC. Building review? Parking? Students dong't build and according to GU don't park. Or do you think that an adult homeowner should require the approval from a kid? It's nuts! Stop this farse please.

GU main campus has 1 address, it's one lot, it's private property and dividing it in two districts is illegal and crazy. Would be like saying that if I'm in the kitchen at my house I'm represented by one commissioner but when I'm in the dining room I'm represented by anl different one. Drink responsibly kids!

Anonymous

When Georgetown students pay property taxes, home maintenance costs and a host of other expenses associated with home ownership in Georgetown, then maybe they would have an argument for further representation. Let's face it, they are transients with little "skin in the game."
Georgetown Resident and Homeowner

Anonymous

The ever-aging Georgetown residents will only have so long to complain. It is time for a new class of resident.

JS

Anon1: Issues that the ANC takes up that affect students: campus plans, community safety measures, commercial design approval, liquor licenses, parking. ANCs have the ability to pass resolutions on anything a branch of DC government does. If you don't think DC government affects students, I don't know what to tell you...

As for your argument about splitting along a property line: this happens all the time. Please note that the current plan, the co-chairs' plan, also does this.

Anon2: Do you really not understand the implications of your home ownership argument?

GU '08

@1st Anonymous:

Listen, if the ANC had no authority over GU and GU had nothing to do with the ANC, I'd be pleased. Yet over the past few years, the ANC has forced re-routing of the GUTS Bus, an essential service that many workers as well as students need, to a needlessly much longer commute. They have sway over the campus plan, and have used it to intrude into many areas of campus life clearly out of their purview. They championed the new noise violations, which can get students arrested under unclear and vague terms, with a strong potential for discriminatory and uneven enforcement. That's just some of the many aspects the ANC affects student life.

Whether you support those steps or you don't, the fact is that students are entitled under DC law to equal representation as residents. Right now, the ANC is literally proposing to treat students as 3/5ths of a person: students are 45% of the community but are allocated only 25% of the seats (2/8). 25% is 3/5ths of 45%. Astounding.

GU '08

@Anonymous #2:

If home ownership is contingent on representation, in your mind, do you think apartment and house renters deserve equal rights? There are a not insignificant number of them in the AMC 2E, and I bet they'd be pretty interested to hear they aren't equal citizens.

Anonymous

Student issues SHOULD be resolved by the university. But then the ANC puts a chokehold on any university attempt to resolve student issues.

Students want their representation, but get labeled as "privledged" when they ask for it.

The unfair discrepancy between population numbers in disctricts is actually illegal, but dividing Georgetown into two disctricts isn't.

The hypocrisies are piling up.

Anonymous

The real issue that Georgetown students are not residents. They don't have a DC drivers license and pay their taxes out of state and they don't vote here. They actually have no voting right in the district nor can they be elected according to the laws of DC. So they shouldn't and can't count as ANC memebrs. Still they want the best of both worlds. Thy cant have it- they need to either become full residents- or stop complaining.

Anonymous

Paul Musgrave after he spoke to the ANC did not even bother to stay in the room to hear the views of other residents and students.

Anonymous

Mr. Musgrave did stay in the ANC meeting room to hear the comments after he spoke. Evidently the views and ideas of the other speakers, reisdents and students alike were not important to him.

Anonymous

I think Mr Musgrave in his speech at the ANC meeting stated something "I am a GU grad student, and I live in Burleith. I and MOST OTHER GU Grad students live here and the other SMD's on this map." Hmmmm.... GU campus plan states there are a total of 297 grad/professional students in all of Burleith and Georgetown. GU has over 9,000 grad/prof students currently. If MOST live in Georgetown/Burleith as Mr Musgrave stated, there should be well over another 4,000 of these students living here. Either Mr. Musgrave is wrong, or GU is lying about how many grad students live in the community. Which is it Mr. Musgrave?

Anonymous

If the Georgetown community doesn't want students renting units in town, why not take it up with the landlords themselves? Many landlords, especially in Burleith, are unlicensed.

Anonymous

GU created this problem by going after - MONEY. They have enrolled way too many students for the size lot it has, and they did it in a small historic residential zone neighborhood. They sit back take the money, and watch the students and residents battle it out. So much for Jesuit values. President DeGioia is not an ethical leader. Not for the community and not for the students. He will not even let the students have a bar on campus, because he is "concerned about underage drinking on campus." Yet, every single weekend the community is faced with 1000s of GU student underage drinkers. Very sad GU will not be more responsible.

Anonymous

And of these 297 grad/professional students, how many own homes, pay property taxes, and vote in the District of Columbia? How many live in Burleith and/or Georgetown for more than two or three years? I would guess very few, unlike the majority of residents in these neighborhoods who have a vested interest in maintaining their properties, making the communities safe and livable, and in raising their children in a healthy and peaceful environment.

LongTimeRez

Anonymous Sep. 02, 2011 @ 6:41 pm
GU created this problem by going after - MONEY. They have enrolled way too many students... and they did it in a small historic residential zone neighborhood. They sit back take the money, and watch the students and residents battle it out. So much for Jesuit values.

You have hit the nail squarely on the head, Anon. And it isn't just GU--the granddaddy of real estate development corporations masquerading as a non-profit educational institutions is GW.

Another problem is the DC Government which looks at all those college student bodies as so-called "free money"--$6,000 per body--from the feds when all it does is transfer federal tax dollars to DC (and the states that that host the colleges), and could care less about the (monetary and non-monetary) costs incurred.

College is big business, and should be treated as such, not coddled and catered to as some sort of charitable entity.

Anonymous

Yes, college is a business. To pay for the faculty to teach, research to be conducted and innovations to be made money must come in to the institution.

What you are all failing to acknowledge is the benefit of having a campus like GU in your neighborhoods. How many of you have taken in an exhibit, heard a lecture or enjoyed some activity thanks to the thriving GU community? I'm sure each of you have. What about the businesses along M Street? I'm sure they are all grateful for having GU nearby for the positive economic impact. Georgetown is Georgetown because of GU.

Of course you will always have students who misbehave - EVERY college in this country suffers from the same issue. EVERY community that has a college in their backyard bellyaches over the same issues here. When you - the residents - bought your homes, you knew very well that there was a college campus at 37th & O and you still bought your homes. If you didn't want the complications of living near a college, you should have avoided Georgetown. Unless of course you bought your home in 1789... then bygones.

Why not support the institution of higher education that's in your backyard instead of being a force against it?

Anonymous

Student voting "rights" has nothing to do with representation or "participating in democracy." Just a transparent ploy by GU to load up local elections with students so every GU proposal gets rubber stamped regardless of its impact on the community.

Musgrave, you could benefit from a history lesson. Time afer time GU has lied to the community and tried to sneak things through but then gets caught red handed (convention center, cogeneration power plant, dorm construction, secretly buying buildings to turn into dorms and swearing in community meetings they aren't, etc.) That's why the neighborhood trusts GU about as far as I can throw a piano.

No on cared about student voting until GU heavily funded it as a means to dilute community representation. You see they kept getting caught by pesky neighborhood investigators. Some other details like sexual assaults and murders that occur on campus are aggressively supressed by GU so its not all kittens and sunshine. Sorry, the cooperative approach has been tried but GU is just one big rich connected corporation that will stop at nothing to trample through whatever it wants. Contribution to the community? Good one. Kind of like a Walmart in a small town.

Hey, here's an idea and lesson in democracy. Let's allow non-students who are residents of GP, Burleith, and Georgetown vote and participate in student goverment elections! Wow! Democracy at it's best!! Imagine the wonderful experience and insight that professionals, housewives, and others can offer the student body.

But let's not discriminate in housing either. Why not allow non-students to live on campus?! Wow!! Wouldn't that be soooo waaay cool! Imagine the mentoring opportunities and enriching experiences available to students. Now of course there might be some drunken riots during finals week from these non-students but hey, we'll just have to learn to get along.

So, whatcha' think? Allow non-student residents of the community to participate in the student govt? Let non-students live on campus? Please explain to me like I'm a 3 year old why you get to trash my house but I can't even come into yours. To paraphrase Colonel Kurtz..."the hypocrisy, the hypocrisy..."

Bottom line from the community is, why should we be forced to endure behaviour that if occurring on campus would result in suspension or expulsion? But isn't that why you live off campus anyway? No RA so do anything you want.

So here's the deal, we've had enough. Instead of dealing with GUs hotline and ministry of propaganda ("are you sure they're GU students, have you tried talking to them...blah, blah"), some of use with connections just call one of our detective buddies in narcotics and tell them drug activity is occurring at the party house. Cops raid it, toss it, find a little dope or coke and guess who has to tell daddy they're in lockup? Think I'm joking? Last semester a few darlings got into some heat that neither daddy or GUs lawyers could get them out of.

John Kenchelian

LOL at above. What you claim to have done last year is illegal, so would you like to file that part of your argument in court?