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Eight undergraduate students in D.C. are running for local office this election season. Students from Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University and Prince George's Community College are all vying for different Advisory Neighborhood Commission positions.
Jackson Carnes is a George Washington University student running to represent his D.C. neighborhood in the ANC. He is one of five undergrads running unopposed for ANC positions in the District this year, so he's been going door to door thanking people for getting him on the ballot.
Carnes got his start in local politics with an organization called DC Students Speak, which encourages young people to engage in District politics. Several of the young students running in the District this year credit the organization with helping them get involved.
"DC Students Speak doesn't endorse and doesn't even necessarily encourage any specific students to run for public office," said Scott Stirrett, one of the group's founders. "But what DC Students Speak does is it works to get college students more engaged in local politics. Some of those students who happen to get engaged choose to make the ultimate plunge in terms of making a decision to run for public office."
Stirrett said the group got going in 2010, when some Georgetown students decided their perspectives weren't included in discussions about the school's Campus Plan. The plan projects growth and change in Georgetown and is reviewed by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
"Looking at measure after measure that could easily be described as anti-student from the mass amount of hostility against the campus plan, to the noise ordinance, to even recently the anti-parking measure, we realized that the interests of an 85,000 person voting block in D.C. was being completely ignored," said Stirrett.
A Georgetown student and DC Students Speak co-founder ran unopposed for ANC that year and is finishing up his two-year term. Two American University students who were affiliated with a different campus student group ran as well — one of them made it to office.
Patrick Kennedy, a GW student and current ANC candidate, said there are different dynamics this time around. "Students are not under siege right now," he said. "There's no campus plan happening. The fact that eight students are running and there's no issue that directly speaks to students in a major way, I think that that shows the civic engagement that's happening."
Kennedy is one of three undergraduate candidates in the District facing opponents this year. And those opponents aren't necessarily impressed by student enthusiasm.
David Lehrman, Kennedy's opponent, has been a commissioner for 10 years. Before announcing his campaign, Kennedy took him out for coffee to ask for his endorsement.
"The audacity of it all completely flabbergasted me," said Lehrman.
Lehrman said most students aren't ready for the responsibility that comes with being an elected official, and he said the students he knows who are running are no exception.
"You're inherently self-absorbed, you have pressures, you have grades to get, you have internships to achieve," said Lehrman. "You're at a different place when you're more mature. You are thinking in terms of giving back."
D.C. voters will have to decide whether they agree.
Ashley Dejean is a student at American University. WAMU is licensed to American University.
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