Ward 2 DC Council member Jack Evans told me he will allow the license for his corporation to expire — therefore, he’ll no longer have outside employment effective April 1, 2019.
That’s a solid act of contrition. Evans may need a miracle, however, to heal from the self-inflicted wounds caused by his aggressive job hunting and what may have been influence peddling as the “longest-serving council member.”
Evans’ decision to end his business — NSE Consulting LLC — comes after Council Chairman Phil Mendelson earlier this week introduced a resolution that, if approved, would reprimand Evans for violating the legislature’s code of conduct by using government personnel and resources for non-official business and for “knowingly” using the prestige of his office and his public position for private gain.
“This reprimand will send a clear message that Mr. Evans’ actions are not only unacceptable but are inconsistent with the Council’s ethical standards,” Mendelson said when he announced his intentions.
“I’m totally sorry for letting everyone down,” Evans said in his interview with me, apologizing for mixing his personal and council affairs. “It was a mistake. I’m going to do the best I can representing my constituents and hope that they will forgive me.”
The Easter season has just begun. Maybe his mea culpa will soften the public’s perception. That may be difficult, especially since Evans’ alleged and actual misdeeds have filled news reports for at least the past year: District Dig was the first to expose allegations of wrongdoing between Evans and Donald MacCord Jr., the owner of Digi Outdoor Media Inc. Several years ago, that company wanted to plaster the city with outdoor screens and other advertising paraphernalia that would have it resembling Times Square. MacCord and his lobbyists sought Evans’ help using a variety of offers — a summer job for Evans’ son, stock in MacCord’s company, among other things. Evans said he returned the various gifts. DC Attorney General Karl Racine’s office subsequently filed a lawsuit against MacCord’s company after it installed signs in violation of local laws; that litigation is ongoing.
Out west, in Washington State, MacCord got himself in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as first reported by Washington City Paper. He reportedly collected more than $4 million from investors, promising the money would go to lease space and install exterior advertisements in DC. Instead, MacCord allegedly used most of the money for personal purposes — luxury cars, kids’ private school tuition, rent for a mansion. That litigation has been the source for much of the information about Evans and his relationship with MacCord. Last year, responding to an anonymous complaint, the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability opened an investigation into the Ward 2 council member’s activities. That examination was stalled in deference, it appears, to the federal SEC probe.
Then came The Washington Post’s story last week, which opened a new vein in the mining of information about Evans and his dealings as a council member. The Post revealed that in 2015 and 2018 Evans sent out business proposals through his government email and on his government letterhead to law firms hoping to get himself hired as their man in local government. (It seemed a move straight out of the Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn playbook, except that Evans was dealing in the local arena without concerns about collusion, foreign bank accounts or brutish dictators. Though clearly, influence peddling and making money remained at the core.) Evans outlined in those proposals how he could “use his tenure, accomplishments and stature as council member and chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and as the council’s appointee to the Board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). to generate business for the law firms,” according to the council reprimand resolution.
The 2018 business proposal from Evans has the tone of desperation. It’s a hard sell when a soft sell over coffee should have been sufficient. After all, he is head of the council’s finance and revenue panel with sway over many major deals: revenue bond sales, general obligation bonds, revenue anticipation notes, requests for tax forgiveness or abatements, tax cuts, tax increases, business improvement districts. He oversees the arts commission, the lottery office and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, among other things.
“Second to the chairman, he is probably the most powerful member of the council,” said one longtime political operative in the city who requested anonymity. “What was he thinking? It was so stupid.”
Who knows what motivated Evans to make such a move? Some people have speculated that he may have had some financial issues; he has three children in college, and his recent divorce cost him a significant amount of money, according to sources inside the John A. Wilson Building.
“It was a marketing document,” Evans said during our conversation. “In retrospect, it was stupid. I didn’t even get the job.”
That may have been a blessing in disguise.
“It’s like he went brain-dead,” said former at-large DC Council member William Lightfoot, who has been involved with local politics for 40 years. “Everyone knows not to use government property to further personal gain.
“There’s no explanation and no excuse,” added Lightfoot.
Political self-destruction isn’t a new phenomenon. The public in DC has watched versions of it play out over the years, as a slew of previously respectable local operatives, managers and politicians —overtaken by ambition, financial greed, or human foibles — have been toppled by their own actions or inactions.
Former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. dealt with his addictions and his countless problems around money, including borrowing some from a local contractor doing business with the city; that last bit when he was the Ward 8 council member led to a sanction by his colleagues and cost him the chairmanship of his committee.
When he was the Ward 1 council member, the late Jim Graham used his position on the Metro board of directors to try to persuade a local developer to give up the rights to land — in exchange for Graham voting to approve a lottery contract sought by allies of the developer. The longtime legislator was reprimanded by the council; he lost some aspects of his council committee but remained chairman.
Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr. finagled a government grant for one of his favored nonprofits, supposedly serving underprivileged youth; he then finagled kickbacks from the nonprofit. He pleaded guilty to a federal crime and went to jail.
Then-Council chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to a federal felony of lying on a bank loan.
At-large council member and national Democratic Party darling Michael Brown wanted a “piece of a piece” of the action. He thought the money he was shoving into a Redskins cup was from a local business owner paying a bribe Brown had solicited. It turned out that man was an FBI agent.
While Evans has never run into legal trouble before, he has drawn criticism in the past for his use of his constituent services funds and from a political action committee, formally known as DC Fund but commonly called the JACK PAC. Progressives have accused him of not caring about the average citizen and being more concerned with the wealthy and big business.
In fairness, Evans represents an area of the city filled with the rich and famous. Ward 2, as currently configured, includes the central business district, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Georgetown. In other words, sometimes when Evans steps out for a commercial building owner, a restaurateur or a sports team owner like Ted Leonsis, he is representing a constituent.
At-large Council member David Grosso, a key leader among the legislature’s progressives, was among the first to call for Evans to lose his committee for this latest ethics misstep. Joined by Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau and at-large member Elissa Silverman, Grosso also demanded creation of a special committee to further investigate Evans’ actions — as if the feds and the board of ethics weren’t enough.
Unsurprisingly, Grosso is not satisfied with the current reprimand proposal. He called it “merely a slap on the wrist, allowing the Council to check a box and move on.”
“It stops short of any real accountability as Councilmember Evans will remain at the helm of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee from which he peddled his influence using the prestige of his office,” Grosso continued in his statement. “True consequences for his behavior should necessitate the reorganization of the current committee structure.”
No doubt, Mendelson doesn’t relish any of what is happening. He became chairman after the downfall and resignation of Kwame Brown. In the intervening years, Mendelson has used his image and reputation to restore the public’s trust in the council. Now, once again, he has been called to a similar task.
“Public trust is both critical and fragile. The Council must constantly be mindful that citizens have a right to expect [their] elected representatives to uphold high standards of ethical conduct,” Mendelson said in his prepared statement.
The reprimand won’t come before the council for a formal vote until later this month. Even if legislators don’t create a special committee, Mendelson’s rescue might be temporary. It appears the federal investigation into Evans’ actions continues. Earlier this week, the public learned authorities have issued subpoenas to several of his clients to produce documents. And there are still thousands of emails The Washington Post has received through its Freedom of Information Act request that have yet to be read or revealed to the public.
If Evans makes it past all that, he still has the voters of Ward 2 to face next year. Has he merely wounded himself or is he politically dead? Stay tuned.
This column was first published in TheDCLine.org