When the political dust settled last November, three George Washington University students found themselves newly elected officials, winning seats on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the District’s most local form of government. Before the election, no ANC had a GW student.
Now, sophomore Peter Sacco and juniors Patrick Kennedy and Jackson Carnes join a group of 300 commissioners who are spread out across 38 ANCs in the District. Each will represent a district made up of roughly 2,000 residents in the Foggy Bottom/West End ANC 2A. ANCs tackle issues that affect their respective neighborhoods, from zoning permits to alcohol licenses to new construction. As the issues move to, for example, the Zoning Commission or the D.C. Council, ANC members represent the neighborhood voice at those meetings.
The trio said the decision to run for a seat stemmed from their passion for serving others and building a stronger community.
“When everyone takes some time each year, each month or, better yet, each week to help those around them, our nation becomes a stronger community,” said Mr. Sacco, who recently won a 2012 Service Excellence Award and said he’s known to friends as a “service-a-holic.” “When you enter the public sphere, you can lead others to a life of service, while also giving them the tools to make society a better place.”
Running for their seats also flowed naturally from a group Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Carnes had already formed, D.C. Students Speak, which works to register students to vote and encourage them to speak up on issues that affect them. Mr. Sacco discovered the group early on in his GW career and became a member.
“The three GW students elected will bring an insider’s perspective to the commission,” said Mr. Sacco, who with the help of friends ran a successful write-in campaign for his seat. “It is imperative that the students’ voices are heard.”
So, too, is it imperative that residents who are not students receive representation from a committed commissioner, Mr. Kennedy said.
“I feel a special sense of obligation to the longer-term residents of our community,” the political science major from Clearwater, Fla., said. “I came to GW because I wanted to be at an urban university, and since I’ve been here I have found that a special part of that experience is living with residents of all ages and backgrounds. The heritage of this neighborhood is an important thing to protect.”
All of the students said they already have some goals in mind for their two-year terms as commissioners.
Mr. Carnes said he’s working to secure a grant that will fund an organization to help neighborhood seniors learn how to use computers.
“Other ideas that I am focused on pursuing include organizing a Foggy Bottom house tour to benefit a local charity, creating an ANC internship program, pushing for the installation of a greater number of bike racks, introducing conversations about how to responsibly reduce homelessness and making proposals to improve our parks,” said Mr. Carnes, an international affairs and religion major from Louisville, Ky.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kennedy said he’ll be focused on anything his residents are passionate about, and possibly building a stronger retail community and improving public spaces. For his part, Mr. Sacco, a business administration major from Topsfield, Mass., said he is dedicated to serving and creating an active dialogue among the university, students and neighbors so the neighborhood thrives.
“There is obviously no way I would have this opportunity at another university, since Foggy Bottom is such a unique place and GW introduced me to it,” he said, adding that interacting with administrators and advocating on behalf of students has given him insight into how different groups “play into the ecosystem of the university community.”
The trio has varied expectations for life after graduation. Mr. Sacco is interested in teaching high-school math for Teach For America before getting a master’s in public administration and joining the social work field. Mr. Kennedy said he has his heart set on working for a public transportation agency in government relations. And Mr. Carnes said he’s not exactly sure what he wants to do, but knows it will involve giving back to the community and working collaboratively with others.