Ed. Note: A few weeks ago a reader suggested that some Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) reps be featured since many readers are unfamiliar with them/their mission. PoP contributor Tony Lizza has taken on the mission and this will be the first in a small series. If you know of a particularly interesting ANC member please email me.
When I first set out to interview an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) member, I’ll admit to having some preconceived notions. I mean, what kind of person takes an unpaid position that involves frequent meetings about potholes and mundane parliamentary procedures? The role seems perfect for that kid in elementary school who used to ask the teacher for homework. More specifically, I imagined a bunch of over-involved NIMBYers who fear that any new local bar is going to turn their sleepy little hamlet into the next Adams Morgan. Oliver Tunda (ANC 1-D) did a thoroughgoing job of fixing my misconceptions about what an ANC member should be. I recently got the chance to sit down with him to talk about Africa, voluntary agreements, and some of his proudest moments as an ANC member.
Seated at the venerable Sangria Cafe with beer in hand, Oliver Tunda recounts the circumstances that brought him to the US: a civil war in his native Sudan that took him on a grueling over-land journey to Liberia and another civil war in Liberia that took him to Cote d’Ivoire for three years. Oliver has a remarkably sunny disposition for a man who’s fled two countries. He received refugee status and arrived in the United States on September 21, 1995. He repeats the date for emphasis. September 21, 1995. When he first arrived in DC, he moved to Mt. Pleasant, where he lived in the Deauville, now better known as the Burned-Out Shell on Mt. Pleasant St. He finished school at George Washington University and got a job at the State Department processing refugees.
In 2008, his local ANC seat became vacant, so he decided to run for the position. “I had been active with the Sudanese community,” he says, and he wanted to expand his involvement to help more of the community. He met with ANC members and local businesses and ran for ANC in the 2008 election. He ran unopposed and boasts about having won with 97% of the vote. “You can go online and check,” he says with a laugh. Dictatorial margins of victory aside, the electioneering feat he’s most proud of is appearing on a ballot with Barack Obama. “I have the ballot framed in my apartment,” he adds.
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When pressed about issues facing Mt. Pleasant, Oliver is quick to point out disagreement among neighborhood groups. I ask which neighborhood groups are disagreeing. He pauses for a moment–perhaps to consider–and says, “Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance,” and doesn’t specify other groups.
Oliver is quick to point out that when he joined the ANC, live music was banned. The issue of live music came before the ANC and one of his first votes was to allow live music throughout Mt. Pleasant, a vote he’s very proud of. “Even those who opposed it are enjoying it today,” he says.
Oliver sees one of the biggest issues before the Mt. Pleasant ANC today being the so-called voluntary agreements that local bars and restaurants have established with the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance–agreements that are opposed by other Mt. Pleasant civic groups, notably Hear Mt. Pleasant. Voluntary agreements are pledges that Mt. Pleasant businesses have made to the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance to abide by certain rules. In the past, the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance has sanctioned businesses for violations of these agreements by protesting their liquor licenses. A quick perusal of the ANC 1D minutes show approved resolutions that move to replace the voluntary agreements with agreements that are “truly” voluntary. Oliver’s view with respect to the voluntary agreements is simple: keep the businesses in the neighborhood. The minutes from the ANC 1D meetings from the past years show that Oliver frequently voted to withdraw ANC support for these voluntary agreements.
Affordable housing is another issue that tops his list. Oliver fears that much of the community that existed when he first arrived in Mt. Pleasant is being priced out of the neighborhood. He worries particularly about immigrants. He’d like as much as possible to make them feel welcome in the neighborhood and the city.
Oliver still works with the Sudanese community when he can. Of his fellow Sudanese, he says, “We can go back to visit, but the reality is, we’re here to stay,” he says. “This is home.”