With election day just four days away, the District is fixed on recent polls that place embattled Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) locked in dead heat to win the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor.
But with all the attention the race has garnered among D.C. residents, campaigning and local political talk has fallen largely on deaf ears at the Hilltop.
Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), a former president of the College Democrats, said he thought students have some knowledge of the race, but encouraged them to look more closely at the candidates platforms and how they may affect them going forward.
“I think Georgetown students are somewhat aware of the D.C. mayoral election but not to the extent that they should be. We need to make sure that the individual leading our city is prepared to represent student voices, whether it be through a commitment to the creation of a mayoral youth advisory board or the expansion of student tenant rights,” Tezel said.
The face of the D.C. electorate has changed drastically since Gray was elected in to office in 2010. Since that year, more than 80,000 new Democratic voters have registered in the District, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and D.C. Board of Elections. Of those 80,000 newly register voters, nearly two-thirds — 51,700 to be exact — are under the age of 35. Precinct 6, which encompasses Georgetown’s campus and the Burleith-Hillendale neighborhood, has seen 748 new voter registrations since 2010.
According to College Democrats Chair Chandini Jha (COL ’16), the mayoral election and students’ stake therein have the potential to create a demonstrable effect on university policies, through negotiations such as the 2010 Campus Plan agreement.
“Georgetown students should definitely care because local policies actually have a huge impact on students’ lives. For example, the campus plan agreement that will eventually mandate 90 percent of students to live on campus was a product of local D.C policies. This profoundly affects student housing and the activities the university will do in order to attract students back on campus,” Jha said.
Incoming GUSA Undersecretary for D.C. Relations Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17) echoed Jha’s concern for the potential role the new mayor could have in shaping future campus plan agreements, the next of which will take shape before 2017.
“I believe that many students are less aware of the upcoming D.C. mayoral race than they should be,” Hinerfeld said, “The changes that are coming into play as a result of the 2010 Campus Plan are having far-reaching effects on student life, such as the construction of new residence halls and the introduction of proposals that would significantly change housing requirements.”
College Republicans Vice Chair Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16) concurred that several aspects of the mayoral race, including crime rates and the state of the local economy, should be relevant to Georgetown’s population.
“I think that students will definitely be, or should be, looking at the candidate whose platform will include things that are going to better the Georgetown community. That includes safety, that includes crime rates, that includes a lot of the neighborhood issues that I think are extremely relevant to on-campus life. I feel like students should take a stake in this — Democratic, Republican — it matters,” McNaughton said.
Part of the problem of engaging students in D.C. politics is that few students are registered to vote in the District.
“It is hard to be a convincing voting bloc since most students are not registered to vote in D.C.,” Hinerfeld said “If mayoral candidates believed that they stood to gain something by engaging with university students, I believe they would be more likely to visit campus and target students in their campaign efforts.”
Hannah Howell (COL ’17) agreed.
“Because we’re a private school, I don’t feel like we’ll be directly affected. I don’t feel like I have the right to comment on D.C. because I’m not a true … I haven’t lived here, and I really don’t like go into D.C. all that much,” Howell said.
For Jha, this reflects students’ closer ties with their communities back home than with their temporary residence in D.C.
“If at all concerned with local politics, people still feel really tied to their home state and what’s going on there. I do think GU students are passionate about national issues, but often the less glamorous, more technocratic local issues get overlooked,” Jha said.
As part of the Center for Social Justice’s Education Week on Tuesday, the CSJ hosted a panel discussion on the role of education in the upcoming elections. Moderated by Maurice Jackson, an associate professor and chair of the D.C. African-American Affairs Commission, the panel featured Washington Post journalists Mark Plotkin and Mike DeBonis as well as professor Douglas Reed.
“The primary is big, and for the most part, I don’t think that candidates have taken hard stances on education,” D.C. Reads coordinator Allison Link (SFS ’14) said. “A lot of the big issues are redistricting and what to do about the middle schools, which are seen as less successful in the D.C. Public School system, and then also the issue about the growing charter movement in D.C. and how the public schools and the charter schools can best balance that relationship.”
Link said she and fellow D.C. Reads coordinators have a significant stake in election results as it affects the public schools in which they tutor.
“Because we work in the DCPS district, we’re interested in how candidates are going to proceed with a lot of the reforms going on in D.C. Public Schools,” Link said
Bowser’s campaign manager Bo Shuff highlighted the trend of area university graduates remaining in the District after graduation as one of the key reasons students should be more engaged in the upcoming election.
“What we’ve seen the last 10 years is more and more young people moving into the city regardless of where they went to school, as well as more students who went to school here staying here. To those students and graduates, who’s calling the shots matters when it comes to many issues in the District,” Shuff said
However, for students unaffiliated with campus organizations that regularly engage in local politics, the impending election has made little noise. Anne Scattergood (COL ’17) questioned whether or not it is the university’s responsibility to inform students of local politics.
“I mean I feel guilty for not keeping up with it because I mean all of us at some point in time are going to be affected by any of the policies,” Scattergood said. “I don’t know whether or not it’s like the responsibility of the university to provide that information or whether it should be like students going out and seeking that information.”
This is not the case for Sarah Lloyd (NHS ’14), who attributed her own disinterest in the election to leaving the District in a few months.
“I guess I’m too busy, but kind of don’t care also because I’m going to move away; I’m a senior so like I’m peacing out,” Lloyd said.
Mayoral candidate and Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he wants to propose a program that would help students with student loan debt in exchange for working in the D.C. government as a way to incentivize young people’s involvement in local politics.
“One of the things that I would support would be a loan forgiveness program to get university graduates to work in D.C. government because the loans that our students have are astronomical. If we had a loan forgiveness program that could attract our local graduates — that’s something that could be a major help,” Wells said.
The D.C. Democratic primary will take place April 1 and includes candidates Gray, Bowser, Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5 ), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), restaurateur Andy Shallal and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis. The closest polling location to Georgetown University is the Duke Ellington School of the Arts at 3500 R Street NW, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Students, and others, who are not registered to vote can register that day by demonstrating proof of residency and showing government-issued identification.