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Alex Padro, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for District 2C01, wants everyone to recognize his ride. His silver 1990 Mercury Sable displays vanity plates: “A PADRO.” And a laminated envelope-sized card sits on the dashboard: “OFFICIAL BUSINESS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.”

Until Dec. 31, the city-issued permit allowed Padro to park in front of expired meters without penalty. Then it and the rest of the permits issued to the city’s 200-plus commissioners expired en masse. What was meant to be an official benefit for the District’s lowest-ranking elected officials has turned into a humiliation. “The Williams administration is dissing the ANC commissioners by denying us our one perk,” Padro says. “It demonstrates their total lack of respect for the ANCs.”

Traditionally, automobile accessories are a badge of honor in D.C. politics. In a recent street altercation, according to the Washington Post, Councilmember Jim Graham reportedly tried to dissuade a would-be assailant by showing him his Ward 1 councilmember tags.

But there’s not much honor in being an advisory neighborhood commissioner. Currently, 21 out of the city’s 287 single-member-district ANC seats remain vacant. Free parking could create an incentive for more D.C. residents to run for the positions, which are notoriously low on fringe benefits and high on grunt work.

The push to protect the pocket change of ANC officers originated in June 2000, when the D.C. Council passed legislation requiring that the mayor “issue regulations to provide parking privileges for Commissioners while on official business.” No specifics were provided except that the mayor complete his plan within 180 days.

The 180 days came and went with no permits. Then another 180 days. Still nothing. In November 2001, after At-Large Councilmember David Catania pressed the issue, Joy Arnold, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for community affairs, promised that a system would be in place by the following spring.

Finally, in the summer of 2002, the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Action mailed temporary parking placards to the city’s commissioners—at least, to some of them. Because of a mix-up, many commissioners throughout the city, and particularly in Ward 5, received nothing.

In the months that followed, several commissioners received parking tickets despite the placards. Beverley Wheeler, executive director of the Office of Neighborhood Action, says that commissioners were instructed to place the permits on the right side of their dashboards, and speculates that parking-enforcement officers—trained to check for proof of registration on the left side of cars’ windshields—may not have looked to starboard.

When commissioners called the District to fight the tickets, city officials discovered another problem: The permits were illegal. Nobody had actually written any regulations granting commissioners protection from meters, and the Office of Neighborhood Action hadn’t had the authority to issue the placards.

Still, city officials were reluctant to abort the experiment. “As long as you didn’t get a ticket,” Wheeler says, “you were good to go.”

Eventually, though, even that shred of privilege was rescinded. City officials, fearing that scofflaws might try to counterfeit placards and pass themselves off as commissioners, decided not to renew the permits—even after having assured some commissioners to the contrary. “I’m sorry for those one or two ANC commissioners who think we have an ulterior motive to destroy them,” says Wheeler. “We don’t.”

Wheeler says she is working with the Office of Corporation Counsel to figure out a long-term solution. One possibility: The city might issue the commissioners ANC license plates similar to those of councilmembers. Unfortunately, Wheeler says that unless still more new regulations are written, the Department of Motor Vehicles will treat the ANC plates like vanity tags instead of government ones and charge the commissioners $60. “That’s a revenue issue,” says Wheeler. “But we think we can get around it.” CP