COMMISSIONER SHARON FARMER
As the first African American and woman to be Director of White House Photography, Sharon Farmer knows a thing or two about tackling uncharted territory. So it’s no surprise that Farmer found herself in her new role as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for her Washington, D.C. community. We sat down with Farmer at a local D.C. cafe to discuss her run. Keep reading to check out her advice, tips, and strategies!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO RUN?
I‘ve been going to the ANC meetings for a few years now because things kept happening in the neighborhood, including development, without the input of my neighbors. I didn’t want to just be mad. I told my partner, Joyce, that she should run and she said, “Sharon, you should run, you’re more diplomatic.” When it came time to get started, Joyce said, “Get up! It’s time to go meet the people!”
WHAT EXPERIENCES LED YOU TO FEEL READY TO RUN?
Student government at Ohio State! I was VP of student government...I ran against the current governor of Ohio...I never lost sight of what I learned in college because we were less than 300 black students on campus when I got to Ohio State, out of 40,000, and you had a choice to be a victim or an advocate for what’s right.
IN ADDITION TO YOUR ABILITY TO BE PROACTIVE ABOUT ISSUES, WHAT ELSE LED TO YOUR SUCCESS BECOMING AN ANC?
People, friends, and the neighborhood. We’ve been here for quite awhile - since ‘87 when no one wanted to live here - so we know people. They know what positions I’ve held in the last 20 years. It gives you a mindset that nothing is impossible, but you have to have allies to help you get it done. There are always allies, you have to find them and pay attention to what people are saying around you. I’m a good listener, I think. We’ve seen the best and worst of times and this is somewhere in the middle because of neighbors having to leave when the places they live in are being turned into Airbnb or an out of place doesn’t fit the neighborhood popped-up.
NOW THAT YOU’RE IN THE POSITION, ARE THERE CHALLENGES?
It’s not easy. People let you know what’s not going right in their neighborhood. So I have to get on the phone to talk about permits and dumpsters being uncovered, and things out of place. I ask my fellow ANC Commissioners for advice. You do a little bit at a time.
DO YOU HAVE THE RESOURCES TO SUPPORT YOU NOW THAT YOU'RE IN OFFICE?
Yes, the ANC folks have had a couple of classes that have been helpful. There was one recently called TABS - it lets you get into the systems of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs that provides permits and another for the Department of Transportation for traffic issues.
I’m still figuring out my resources - it takes a little bit given all of the things that affect people’s ability to have a good community. Everybody pretty much on the advisory neighborhood commission has picked a niche they like...I’m more interested in zoning and historic preservation…I’ve been to a couple zoning meetings and didn’t realize I had to register as a friend of one side or another of the zoning decisions. Then you have outspoken people in the community who give you advice even though you weren’t asking for it, but they make sense. Some people have been frustrated about not being heard and not being listened to. That won’t be me. I’m going to listen and I’m going to hear you. If I hear them out it might make me wise about why things are the way they are and how things could be. You don’t know what you can do until you give it a try. Nothing beats a failure but a try.
HOW DO YOU ADDRESS DIFFERENCES IN OPINION DURING THE TIMES WHEN YOU NEED TO MAKE A DECISION ON BEHALF OF THE COMMUNITY?
People tell you what they think and you have to decide if it’s fair or not. It’s a godsend that people feel like they can come up and talk to me. I have a lot to do all the time, but your community is not going to get better if you act like it’s not your responsibility too.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE THINKING ABOUT TAKING THE NEXT STEP?
Take the next step. Politics [for me] just ended up being something that instituted good change for more people. It’s important.
AT THE END WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SAY ABOUT YOUR TIME IN OFFICE?
That my community is happy and not stressed. That the more folks involved makes it better for everyone in our community.