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.
26 responses to “When ANC Commissioners Endorse Political Candidates….”
Nice piece Larry.
Something that is not mentioned above but bothers me about this is that an ANC Commissioner’s email list is only one-way traffic. In other words, there is no way to “reply to the list.”
As a result, there is an appearance of agreement when in fact there is only silence.
Judging from the signs around Capitol Hill, there is no such uniform view or agreement on the question of who should be the next Councilmember.
I just want to note that, to the extent any of this is directed at my email supporting Charles Allen on the ANC6A listserve, that listserve is a public forum where anyone who subscribes and can post. I have no special posting powers as a Commissioner, and I did not send my email via the official ANC 6A announcement list, nor did I use the list I set up specifically for my SMD.
I know other ANC Commissioners have endorsed various candidates, but I don’t know what avenues they used to do so; just wanted to clear up if there was any misconception regarding my own personal actions.
I am not on the ANC 6a listserv and I have no idea who you are. You sound like a great commissioner.
I especially like your “nor did I use the list set up specifically for my SMD” part.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Politicians at every level of government endorse candidates for office all the time. There is nothing unethical or illegal about such activity. If an ANC commissioner wants to share with their contact list who they believe is the best candidate for a certain office they should feel free to do so. There is nothing in doing so that violates the Hatch Act so long as they do so on their own time and not using government resources or coercion.
Of course there is a chance an ANC commissioner could alienate one of their constituents by supporting someone they don’t, but that is a risk the ANC commissioner needs to weigh. Anyone publicly supporting any candidate faces that same risk though … including the neighbor who places a yard sign or volunteers for a campaign.
Open, honest, public debate is what makes the American election process great. I can’t fathom why you’d be advocating for silence from our most local elected officials.
Eric: I think the concern is that this move actually limits that debate. And again, I think the concern is the subtle way in which aspects of the office are being mobilized for political use.
We just disagree. But note that both sides of the argument are given space here.
Well, it could be worse– we could be in Crimea. Or on Flight 370.
This is making a mountain of a very very small molehill. Commissioners are not subject to the Hatch Act – period.
Everyone who subscribes to a Commissioner’s email list is competent enough to evaluate the point of view being advanced.
It’s important that people learn of our experience with Councilmembers and their staff, with the Mayor and with others who have decided to run for office. Few have the chance to watch and evaluate the competence and the ability to listen, the ability to respect a voter, that Commissioners have as we push for measures to help our constituents.
I’ve had seven years of experience dealing with Tommy Wells and Charles Allen. They’ve helped me get street signs, improve streets, help with constituents in deep trouble, helped with merchants on H Street during the street reconstruction and track placement, obtain help with policing, and in many many other ways. They’ve responded to my calls for assistance.
Both have been and promise to continue to be fully focused on their jobs and have refused corporate money. This is something we all have learned is extremely important. No other candidates have refused to accept funds from corporations doing business with the city.
It’s my experience and close observation as a Commissioner that leads me to support Charles Allen and Tommy Wells. My constituents are plenty smart enough to make their own judgment about what I say.
Maybe I’m incorrectly assuming this is an editorial in response to what I posted to the ANC6A listserve recently (cue “You’re So Vain”), but if I’m assuming correctly, I want to raise one minor quibble with your article. You imply that “my” email list is “personal” or “private,” and would not have the same audience but for my position. The ANC6A listserve is an open discussion listserve (not a one-way line of communication, like a previous comment states), and I was on it well before I was a Commissioner, and will remain on it long after I serve on the ANC. I disagree with any sort of implication that this was an abuse of power – I sent out an email to a listserve that any subscriber can post on (and reply to, as Dr. Tillman’s almost immediate reply can attest to), and I expressed my personal support for a candidate I feel strongly about. Any other subscriber to that email list, Commissioner or no Commissioner, could have sent out the exact same email and it would have reached the exact same number of inboxes as mine did.
You are welcome to your opinion about whether ANC Commissioners should endorse candidates or be involved in Council/Mayoral/etc. elections, so I won’t get into our areas of disagreement there. I will say that I intend to provide the same level of service to all my constituents in my SMD. Heck, I don’t have nearly enough free time to go block-to-block and keep a log of who has whose yard sign posted out front, and then cross-reference that list any time a constituent contacts me. If I *did* have that kind of free time, I’d probably invest it in playing fantasy baseball anyway.
Ordinarily I don’t take issue with anything you put on your blog. Mostly I find what you post to be fairly unbiased and informative. I however think you missed the mark on this, your latest post.
As ANC Commissioners we are not subject to the Hatch ACt. We don’t get paid. We spend a large part of our time attending meetings, discussing issues and trying to resolve those same issues with and for constituents. We work with various Council members and city agencies to address numerous issues. Doing so gives us, I think a unique perspective on who in city government are effective in getting those issues addressed and who does not. MPD, ABRA, CHRS,OTR are just a few that come to mind that we work with. Having to negotiate our way through the morass of regulations and DCMR is both time consuming and tedious at times. We knew that when we “applied” for this position.
As a Commissioner I’ve served 6 terms, going on 12 years. I’ve worked with a number of city officials, Commissioners,residents, neighbors, etc. Have I agreed with everyone? No! Have I dont my best to work to the best possible solution? I think yes. Has it always been what the concerned party wanted? No! Such is the nature of the beast so to speak.
As Commissioners we have to adhere to the regulations and proscriptions of the various rules and agencies when we hear cases and make recommendations. As such it doesn’t alway make everyone happy. We try to take an unbiased approach. I’ve said on numerous occasions myself that “it’s not my personal preference but i was not elected to give my personal opinion so I have to decide based on the facts and regulation”.
Again with all of that considered we do have a unique postion that allows us to form an opinion based on experience of who has been most beneficial for our constituents, has help us accomplish goals that benefit our community at large.
As example , the installation of the traffic light at 18th & Independence Avenue SE. I worked with Tommy Wells office, Charles Allen , MPD officials Lt. Thornton, DDOT James Cheek and numerous residents for nearly 7 years to get this done. Not an easy issue with the funding , numerous traffic studies and petitions but it finally got done
We should of course remember those officials who help us get these types of issures resolved. It’s part and parcel of everything we do. My present and past Commissioners in this ANC and other spend numerous hours drafting letters, arranging meetings, testifying before various city agency hearings just to get these done.
In your letter you state,
“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”.
Am I to assume you infer that we somehow penalize or harass constituents for supporting a candidate we don’t endorse? I for one enjoy the discussions I have with various neighbors about candidates I or they endorse and we still get along. I still give vegetables to my neighbors from my garden who don”t share the same political view as I do. I still try my best to address my neighbbors issues who come to me with them in spite of the fact that they may or may not look like me or share my viewpoints.
You somehow infer that people are sheep who need to be led to the correct “political pasture” and wont find their way without our direction. I’ve never thought that. I would like to think that my constitency is made up of a diverse set of view points, opinions and knowledge base that gives them a profound awareness of what they want, like and desire in the way of schools, quality of life, and politicians.
I was active in my sons schools, in the neighborhood, walked with the orange hat patrols, worked with Sharon Ambrose’s office when she was the Councilwoman, on numerous community issues long before I became and ANC Commissioner. My contacts have been the culmination of long years of working with various agencies, along with aggravating numerous people in those agencies from DCPS to DPW, DCRA and the City Council.
I go with what I know! That means those who have helped me in the past and continue to help me are those I’m most familiar with. I would also think that my constituents are knowledgeable enough to decide and discern who they would vote for and my opinion would have little or no influence on that decision.
That all lbeing said I”m making a strong endorsement for Charles Allen as the ward 6 Councilman and Tommy Wells for Mayor!
Feel free to contact me at fmcampbell6b10 or email@example.com.
Francis M. Campbell
As an aside I noticed I failed to give a complete email address in my response. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com.
And one last comment. Despite and in spite of spell check and grammar check I’m still fallable. So hopefully I’m not judged on those items but on the content and message I attempted to convey!
Francis, extremely well said. You have eloquently described the place from which I have delivered my own endorsements (in this election and in previous ones). We experience the city government in some depth and from a place of service to the City. For me it matters a great deal who the Mayor and the Council are, and thus I exercise my first amendment rights to speak out on that.
What’s more I get many requests from neighbors and friends for my thoughts on the election. People know I am engaged and so I get requests for my opinion. On the street corner, in the school yard, in emails. So many requests in fact, that it is a completely rational response to lay out my thoughts in a comprehensive manner and send them out to my list. My list. Not the city’s, not the ANC’s, mine.
Council members endorse, members of Congress endorse in our city election, civic groups and unions endorse, newspapers endorse, people put up lawn signs, wear stickers. This is all part of the election. Its a debate where the point is to take a side and make a decision.
Frankly I find it kind of baffling that a blogger would be the one that is calling on others to keep their opinions to themselves, and per Kathleen’s comments, I am sort of amazed that an author of some distinction would say “I think the concern is that this move [speaking out] actually limits that debate.” People expressing their opinion limits debate?
I see absolutely no legal, intellectual or moral basis for telling ANC commissioners to stay out of City politics. None. But what I do see is that some people don’t like who we have endorsed. And as a reaction to that they are trying to say that we should not endorse. Desperate.
One further comment:
Perhaps you misunderstood comments expressed on the ANC yahoogroup. The email group, ANC6A, is not owned, moderated or controlled by ANC 6A. It’s been active since 2003. Its owner is not and has not been an ANC Commissioner.
Formal announcements from the ANC come from our email blast at “anc6a-announce”.
Francis, Ivan, and others have covered most of my thoughts on this, so I will be brief.
I find the argument advanced in this editorial — that ANC commissioners should refrain from publicly supporting candidates for local office — baffling and, frankly, a little silly. As an ANC commissioner, I devote much of my free time to working on neighborhood issues. It should come as no surprise that I care deeply about the future of our neighborhood and who represents us on the city council. It is frustrating to read someone argue that my volunteer work on ANC6B should disqualify me from being able to voice my opinions about a local election.
Larry – I hope you will reconsider your views on this.
There is so much silliness in Larry’s editorial and Kathleen’s comments, I don’t know where to start. Fortunately, my ANC colleagues have already made excellent rebuttals so I don’t have to. But, I would like to ask Larry where his kind of thinking leads. I have Wells and Allen signs in my front yard, I have walked door to door with Allen and for Wells, I plan to volunteer at the polls on Election Day, I wear Allen and Wells stickers on my coat when I walk around the Hill where I tend to be recognized, and I was out until 11pm last night putting Wells signs along PA Avenue. Is all of this forbidden because I am an ANC Commissioner?
And, just to set the record straight, my Beat26 email list predates by years my becoming a Commissioner and is not my official ANC email address. People have to subscribe to be on the Beat26 list and can unsubscribe whenever they choose. The only info I ask for is someone’s email address but even then I know that my list bleeds far beyond the boundaries of my single member district. As anyone knows who is on the list, from time to time I send out very strongly worded opinions on CH issues.
Lastly, as an ANC Commissioner, I know there are not many residents of the Hill that are easily intimidated.
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I like many of the people who post above, but I do want to suggest that their comments, their confusion, and their tone go a long way to making the very point that Larry raises.
Kathleen, maybe you want to point out who is confused, who has a tone you don’t like, and what point it is of Larry’s you think we have made. As far as I can tell, Larry’s point is that we are at risk of intimidating people by expressing our first amendment rights. Pretty bold claim in my opinion but if you have evidence or specifics please share.
Of course, Ivan. I’d be happy to.
When ANC commissioners use email lists which are ordinarily used to distribute information about their work as ANC commissioners to endorse political candidates, it blurs the line between the non-partisan commissioner’s job as community representative and the larger world of partisan city politics. It is one-way proselytizing and I think is a questionable practice. Please note that ANC Commissioner Jay Williams had no problem ceding the point; and please also note that Washington Post’s Mike Debonis linked to Larry’s article with the headline: “Be a Responsible ANC Commissioner During Campaign Season.” Obviously DeBonis, who is not known for taking a critical lens to Ward 6, had no difficulty seeing Larry’s point either.
But here it is, or my take of it, again: Many neighbors join and remain on commissioner’s lists in order to receive news about the neighborhood. Given that ANC Commissioners are noticed about city services and events, a resident’s decision to receive such emails from their commissioner is perfectly natural, and should they opt out of the list, they are opting out of what is for some commissioners their primary way of communicating with their constituents.
Larry does not speak to use of public listserves, Facebook, Twitter, meet and greets, hosting campaign events, or endorsements in other media. But he does contend that there are problems when commissioners undertake these endorsements on what can be construed as a dimension of their official position – problems which some commissioners are apparently reluctant to acknowledge.
I also find mis-readings of Larry’s editorial, including those who construe his piece as an attempt to curb any given ANC Commissioner’s right to express their political views, to be absurd and, given the careful circumscribed nature of his posting, deliberate.
Another danger that has become more apparent in the days since posting is the atmosphere of clubishness that is fostered when ANC Commissioners act more as representatives of a local neighborhood political machine than they do neighborhood representatives. It’s long been known, and it’s been reported on these pages, that appellants to the Zoning Commisison’s order on Hine (and their lawyer) have been treated dismissively by ANC Commissioners. Such treatment validates the point Larry raises: that disagreeing with your local commissioner carries a political cost.
You in particular, Ivan, have been signaled out for dismissive remarks/behavior to those folks.
What is now also apparent is that taunts, name-calling, and other behavior more fitting for the sandbox than social media can be safely added to the list of consequences should one even question a commissioner’s behavior.
I don’t find anything in remarks “silly,” nor do I find anything in Larry’s editorial to be silly either. I find that characterization dismissive, and were it not for the fact that I’m confident that you and Kirsten both respect me as a person and as a neighbor, I’d take offense to it.
As a non-commissioner voter, I find it quite helpful to hear the views of the commissioners regarding the individuals who want to represent our ward. The commissioners are experts on neighborhood issues, and are familiar with the various candidates (at least, I assume that they are). Accordingly, I give the commissioners’ endorsements more weight than I give to endorsements from organizations that rely on questionnaire responses or political calculations to make their decisions. Plus, if I have any questions regarding their endorsements, I can raise those questions much more easily with a commissioner in my neighborhood than with some organization that might have only a tangential connection with our ward.
I would be disappointed if my commissioner decided not to make his or her opinions known due to some sense that such things should not be done. Such things should be done. Of course, they should be done respectfully and with an understanding that some of our neighbors will disagree with the endorsement one way or another.
Finally, I have legitimate cause to worry that my commissioner is not going to respond to my needs just because I support a different Council candidate, then we have bigger problems. Moreover, those problems, and my worry, will exist regardless of whether the commissioner makes his or her opinions on the candidates known. I have never had such cause for worry. I know that being an ANC commissioner is difficult and that these folks volunteer for the job because they care about their neighborhoods and their neighbors, and I trust that they would not be short-sighted enough to sacrifice the latter simply because somebody supports a different candidate.
Err…that last paragraph should have started: “Finally, if I have a legitimate…”
Thanks to the outspoken David, Larry Janezich, in his brave blog entry that dares to offer only reason — reason — in opposition to the insouciant onslaught of some incumbent ANC Commissioners. The latter, Goliath-like in their power and self-importance, do protest too much. Slain already.
How you vote most certainly affects how your ANC commissioner will act towards you. I know this first hand. Besides that, none of us can control what anyone puts out on their email lists or blogs, it is a conversation.
I thought this article was about my area’s commissioner to be honest. He posted falsehoods about the opposing candidate to his endorsed CM to his list. Commissioners may be engaged, but they aren’t always operating from the right place. I’ve been harassed by neighbors (instigated by my anc comm), been called names, been ignored and/or had some very unnecessarily unpleasant exchanges with some of the commissioners commenting here. This isn’t what engaging should look like. Thank goodness people like Larry have the thick skin to get beat up by these neighborhood bullies. I sure don’t.
This is a great, thoughtful editorial. Larry, thank you so much for writing it. It needed to be said and you couldn’t have said it more eloquently. Perception IS reality. A political endorsement from an ANC commissioner on a one-way email list where there is no opportunity for feedback or discussion is a heavy sledge to constituents. I have no problem with ANC commissioners supporting candidates and working for them; it becomes a problem to me, when that support appears to be an official ANC endorsement and my ANC commissioner treats me dismissively and accuses me of bias.
If your ANC commissioner is communicating falsehoods and instigating harassment toward you I certainly hope they lose their next race. Such a person has no place representing your neighborhood.
ANC commissioners make decisions at every meeting that could offend or upset certain neighbors or constituents. They often communicate these stances via their blogs, listserves, and their own email lists. So, I fail to see why they should squelch communication regarding support for a particular candidate for office under the grounds people may be offended and unsubscribe. Of course, and I think we can all agree, that they should do so in a sensitive and responsible manner … but that can be said of anyone communicating anything.
The ANC commissioner is a political position, in that they run for office, campaign, vote on matters impacting neighborhoods, and work closely with both elected (CMs/mayor) officials and bureaucratic offices. To think they suddenly should put blinders on come election season and only speak of support for candidates in private isn’t fair to them. Furthermore many people may look to their ANC commissioners for leadership and insight regarding elections.
Lastly, Larry’s opinion is just that. His opinion. As is mine and all the other commenters here. I for one am glad my ANC commissioner has spoken up during election season and done so in a responsible, ethical, and non-confrontational manner.
I appreciate the editorial. I think it’s good to be reminded that as voters we have to be careful and appraise endorsements to ensure we support thei endorser’s enthusiasm for the candidate.
While it’s not exactly on topic, I I would very much like a discussion concerning the dozens of recorded message phone calls that I get during election season. They don’t have call back numbers, they don’t provide information to help me make a decision, often they don’t say who financed or wrote the message. does anyone think it’s a good mechanism for informing voters?
I can put my name on a NO Call list for commercial solicitations, or whatever these calls are called, but I seem to have no control over political organizations and candidates who want to dial me up.
is anyone else as irritated by this campaign tool as I am?