When ANC Commissioners Endorse Political Candidates….
Editorial by Larry Janezich
Non-partisan, elected ANC commissioners are exempt from the Hatch Act – the federal law proscribing the political activity of civil servants – which means they are NOT prohibited from posting “a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.”
Still, the guiding principle of the Hatch Act is an important one: the normal offices and services of government should not be politicized. There are good reasons why neighborhood representatives should refrain from turning components of their formal office – especially their email lists – into political agents. While their email lists are private and to some degree personal, their subscription and audience would not be what they are were it not for their position as an ANC Commissioner. Those lists have the reach they do because of the office any given commissioner holds.
Also worth nothing is the fact that the political unit in question is so small – some 2,000 residents in a commissioner’s constituency. It is understandable how residents who support one candidate can be made uncomfortable when their commissioner endorses another, especially if a resident places a sign or becomes vocal about their support. These things will be noticed, and perhaps noted. Have some neighbors refrained from being more vocal about their political views because they do not want to tarnish their relationship with their commissioner? How can a politically active resident have confidence that his/her concerns will be addressed if their political views differ from those of a commissioner? If a commissioner has shown a willingness to politicize one component of their formal office, how can a resident have confidence that they will not do so in other areas, even if that “politicization” takes the form of a slow or lazy response to a resident’s concerns?
As a commissioner, it is tempting to endorse a candidate who one has worked with, or with whom one has a personal relationship – or even to curry favor with a likely winner. Yet is also important to keep in mind that ANCs have been criticized throughout the city as being nothing more than cogs in the local neighborhood political machine. When commissioners use the influence of their office to advance a partisan agenda, they validate that criticism. ANC commissioners are our neighborhood representatives, not our political agents.