DC Council member Jack Evans and a Political Uprising

March 17, 2019

It’s understandable that some DC residents, including TBR, are disappointed with certain behavior by Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans over the past few years. The disillusionment is amplified because he has been a force for good in the city.

 

Early in his career, Evans helped stabilize the Shaw neighborhood and other previously low-income communities through increased economic development and public safety. He later established Business Improvement Districts also known as BIDs in neighborhood and downtown commercial corridors, helping to revive communities across the city.

 

Evans fought to increase the city’s credit rating, saving taxpayers tons of money related to annual borrowing. He helped to institute a fair tax system, providing relief to everyone, including seniors and low-income residents. Equally important, he has helped maintain an ideological balance on the council, preventing it from tipping too far left so as to threaten hard-won achievements.

 

This past month he may have added another remarkable feat to his legacy: raising the politically dead.

 

Political activists and advocates who either have been in semi-retirement or dubbed mostly insignificant to the scheme of local affairs have been resurrected. Many of those individuals have clashed with Evans in the past. As he has become engulfed in a controversy surrounding his use of government resources and his relationship with an allegedly unsavory business owner, those once dead or comatose enemies and critics apparently see an opportunity to exact revenge. They are energized over the possibility of slaying Evans and his career.

 

Some have demanded he be stripped of his chairmanship of the Committee of Finance and Revenue. Others have insisted he resign from the council. Still others have vowed to recall him.

 

What’s new about their disdain? Nothing.

 

Robin Diener was never an Evans fan.  A Dupont Circle resident and a member of the DC Library Renaissance Project, she vehemently opposed the West End development project championed by Evans and the council. As president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, Diener penned a letter dated March 13, 2019 with Marina Streznewski, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, to council Chairman Phil Mendelson asking him to establish a special committee to investigate allegations of unethical actions by Evans and to temporarily remove him from the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and as chairman of the finance committee.

 

Debby Hanrahan, a Green Party activist, once donned a white elephant costume and followed Evans around to protest his support for the construction of the Washington Convention. Now, according to published reports, Hanrahan is a co-chairperson of a committee intent on recalling Evans.

 

On its website, DC4Democracy said it wanted to use 2019 “to get on the ground in Wards 2 and 4 to identify issues, collect data, create coalitions and educate voters…for 2020 elections.” There is no mention of Wards 7 or 8 where those council members also face reelection next year.

 

Why target 4 and 2?  

 

Ward 4 council member Brandon Todd and Evans are political allies of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Further, neither Todd nor Evans is considered a member of the so-called progressive wing of the legislature. Progressives want to extend their clout and influence. Some of them pushed lobbyist and policy analyst Ed Lazere to run against council Chairman Phil Mendelson last year. They may have lost that battle, but they think they had a good chance of winning the war.

 

“These are our socialist Democrats; they are smelling blood,” said one high-place DC Democratic Party operative.

 

Ward 7 resident John Capozzi helped Evans win his initial election to the council in 1991. These days, he’s part of what he defined as a “secret group” that began plotting since December 2018 to unseat Evans in next year's Democratic primary. Capozzi added that the “Sack Jack” crew is currently canvassing neighborhoods for “a viable candidate to defeat Jack in 2020.”

 

Why would someone who lives east of the Anacostia River be involved in the political affairs of residents in Ward 2?

 

“Since the council is only 13 members, every member affects where we live,” Capozzi told TBR. “Jack Evans hasn’t done much for us east of the river; the best he has done is provided that sports arena and [taxpayers] put up $65 million and [the sports owner] put up $5 million.”

 

TBR pointed out that Evans supported creation of BIDs east of the river. Evans also had supported the mayor's proposal to create tax increment financing for a development project in historic Anacostia; Ward 8 Council member Trayon White blocked that effort, however.

 

Capozzi said he didn’t understand what happened with the TIF. He said he is not “a big proponent” of BIDs.

 

Unseating Evans is no new concept. For the last eight years, folks have tried to inspire or cajole people they think could beat him. Call them the gang that chased Unicorns. The last time around, however, Evans ran unopposed.

 

With the current controversies revolving around the Ward 2 legislator, DC for Democracy, Working Families Party, Jews United for Justice, the Sack Jack group among others see a vulnerable politician.

 

Maybe Unicorns are real?

 

“A lot of the progressive groups have worked for years on issues they feel [Evans] hasn’t paid attention to,” explained Terry Lynch a long-time activist, who doesn’t have a hate-hate relationship with Evans. Lynch said, however, that he is disappointed in “elected leaders not taking more decisive action against Evans. It’s pretty clear he was involved in influence peddling.”  

 

Lynch argued that a special committee should be appointed to investigate Evans’ actions and that the Ward 2 legislator should be removed from his position on the Metro board and from the chairmanship of the finance committee.

 

When TBR asked Lynch who should be appointed to the job, he mentioned Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray, who served as council chairman before he defeated Adrian Fenty as mayor in 2010; Gray was eventually defeated by Bowser. Lynch also suggested At-large council member Elissa Silverman, who once worked with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, could become finance committee chair.  “It could be an opportunity for others to show what they have,” continued Lynch throwing in the mix the names of Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau and at-large council member David Grosso.

 

TBR’s head is hurting. That all sounds like bankruptcy Deja vu.

 

     Evans has been around long enough to have understood the political dynamics in the District and the country. If he wanted to protect his perch and preserve his ability to advance his legacy, continuing to contribute to the growth and development of the city, he should have been more mindful of the consequences of his behavior. Further, he should have felt the heat of the band of enemies who had been stalking him for years, looking for any misstep—small or large—to bring him down.

 

In other words, Evans has only himself to blame for the political feeding frenzy. The media, perhaps unwittingly, have provided an assist, deliberately merging two separate offenses into one.

 

When Lynch talked about influence peddling, he referenced Evans’ use of government resources to distribute two emails—one in 2015, another in 2018—to two high-priced law firms where he sought employment.  That is one offense.

 

Use of government resources and using public office for private gain are violations of the council’s Code of Conduct. Unquestionably, Evans deserves to receive appropriate punishment. Council Chairman Mendelson has determined that a public reprimand, expected to be presented Tuesday, is sufficient.

 

For years, council members have walked a fine ethical line, sometimes stepping right up to the no-trespass-sign; other times they have fallen into forbidden territory. For that reason, good-government advocates have argued that no council members should be permitted to hold outside employment. (Currently the council chairman is the only elected official in the legislative branch who is prohibited from holding any job.) Several years ago, then- At-large council member Vincent Orange introduced legislation that would have made it illegal for council members to have outside work full-time or part-time. His proposal never gained traction.

 

While people have groused about the inside-outside employment arrangement, TBR has yet to see any subsequent introduction by any council member to end the practice. Mendelson has said its complicated; the prohibition, he noted, would require an amendment to the Home Rule Charter—as if there haven’t been other amendments.

 

Evans has promised to put an end to his outside employment, including closing his private business NSE Consulting LLC, which he incorporated in 2016.

 

 

     The second offense for Evans, not covered by the reprimand, allegedly involves his dealings with Donald MacCord Jr. The former president of Digi Outdoor Media, MacCord salivated over every commercial building in the nation’s capital. He saw those facades as locations for all manner of advertising that, when aggressively exploited, would make him and his partners filthy rich. MacCord enticed, seduced, and promised business owners and investors not just in DC but in California and Washington (state).

 

In the District, matters seemed to have heated up around 2016. According to previously published reports, Evans allegedly requested Digi Media provide his son a summer job. While an offer was made, Evans said he and his son declined it. Then, Digi offered two checks totaling $50,00 to the Ward 2 legislator. Evans said he had intended to represent the company in its efforts outside of the District; he subsequently decided not to pursue that relationship. Later, Digi provided Evans stock certificates in the company; those were returned according to Evans and his lawyer Mark Tuohey. 

 

Meanwhile, DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against Digi Outdoor Media accusing it of violating local signage laws. Nevertheless, Evans and others sought to introduce emergency legislation to amend those local laws; their action, which would have advantaged MacCord, failed.

 

By 2017, however, MacCord’s dream was becoming a nightmare. He was accused of criminal actions in one state. The Securities Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit against him in another state.

 

Federal subpoenas began flying around DC in 2018: the DC city administrator received one in September that year. Earlier this month, the DC Council received one; some of Evans clients also have received them. Additionally, Evans has had in-person conversations with federal officials, government sources told TBR.

 

These are all serious matters. However, it’s unclear what it all means. Are the requests for documents and the federal conversations related to MacCord alone? Or are federal officials investigating the former Digi media executive and Evans?

 

The proper authorities have yet to provide the public with answers. Aside from the federal investigation, the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability is conducting its own probe. Mendelson, Evans and others have suggested District residents reserve their judgement until after those examinations have been completed. That would seem the fair thing to do.

 

Evans’ political enemies, critics and those out to create an all-progressive council can’t take the risk of waiting. The investigations may conclude Evans did not engage in any criminal or corrupt behavior. If that happens, the Sack Jack crew and others could find themselves with an Evans candidacy in 2020.

 

The Unicorn chase would be on, yet again.

 

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