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If Adam Eidinger’s bitcoins weren’t tied up in a lawsuit in Japan, he says, he thought about funding this whole recall thing himself. But alas, they are. And the maximum allowed contribution to a recall campaign is $500 anyway. So he’ll have to raise money the old fashioned way.
Eidinger is currently sitting in his house on Massachusetts Avenue NW taping materials to the back of some clipboards. It’s Sunday just before 9 a.m., and he and a couple volunteers are preparing to gather signatures for the petition to recall Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who is caught in an ethics scandal and the target of an active federal investigation.
They’re looking to take advantage of the crowd that will flock to the nearby Dupont Circle Farmers Market. But first Eidinger has to doctor the clipboard one of the volunteers was using with a “Libertarian” bumper sticker on the back.
“You can’t flash that Libertarian thing,” Eidinger tells volunteer Adrian Salsgiver. “It immediately turned me off. Trust me, 90 percent of the people here are not Libertarians.”
Eidinger’s roommate, Mary Gellen, sits nearby as he tapes and rambles about the past signature-gathering campaigns he’s orchestrated.
There was Initiative 71, which legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District, and Initiative 77, which eliminated the tipped minimum wage for servers and bartenders. When the D.C. Council voted to overturn Initiative 77, Eidinger helped lead the campaign to force a referendum vote on the Council’s repeal. They gathered 35,000 signatures in about a week, but a judge stopped the referendum due to a procedural issue.
Eidinger also famously moved to Maryland in 2018 to campaign against U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, the obstructionist known for blocking D.C. from fully legalizing recreational marijuana. (The move voided Eidinger’s homestead deduction on an Adams Morgan property he owns but does not live in. The recall petition, which he filed as a Ward 2 resident, brought the tax issue to light, and he ended up with a fine and a $1,000 back-tax bill.)
As he talks, from out of nowhere Eidinger whips out a joint and lights it up without offering any to LL. “I know you’re working,” he says.
Between puffs, Eidinger talks about the recall campaign’s early progress and his preliminary strategy. He got a cold reception recently when he knocked on a few of his neighbors’ doors.
“One of the guys was like, ‘That’s my good friend,’” Gellen says.
“Jack is very well connected,” Eidinger adds.
He has until mid-November to hand in 5,200 signatures—10 percent of the 52,000 registered voters in Ward 2, as opposed to 5 percent of citywide voters for ballot initiatives. His goal is to turn in 10,000 signatures by August and push the D.C. Board of Elections to hold a recall election in 2019. The board has 114 days to hold a recall if the campaign turns in enough certified signatures.
Eidinger is working with an all volunteer staff for the first month and says that as of this week the team of about 17 has collected about 350 signatures.
By next month, he hopes to hire signature gatherers to work full time and aims to send out direct mailers and plaster the ward with posters. A total of $30,000 ought to do it, he says.
Eidinger and Gellen hop into his black Kia with temporary Maryland plates (he just bought the car, and the D.C. plates are on the way, Eidinger says), and zip over to the farmers market.
“We’re making progress, but talk to me when we have 5 percent of the ward, and gauge my enthusiasm then,” he says. “We’re not used to that kind of saturation for signature collection. … Getting over 5 percent starts to become uncharted territory for us.”
As he gets out of the car, Eidinger realizes he covered the back of every clipboard except the one with the “Libertarian” bumper sticker.
People wearing strappy sandals and carrying yoga mats and New Yorker tote bags stroll past Eidinger as he waves two clipboards in the air.
“Help recall Jack Evans!” he yells. “Remove a corrupt politician from office!”
Most people avoid eye contact with the 45-year-old wearing colorful glasses and yellow Adidas shoes.
Others wander up and ask for more information: Who is Jack Evans? Why do you want him gone?
Eidinger launches into his spiel about the business proposals that Evans sent from his Council office to firms that lobby the District government. And he tells them about the 200,000 shares of stock in a digital sign company Evans received before promoting legislation that would have benefited the company. Evans has said he returned the shares.
The Council reprimanded Evans for “knowingly [using] the prestige of his office and public position seeking private gain,” and stripped some responsibilities from his Committee on Finance and Revenue.
People’s reasons for signing the petition vary, from a desire to shake up the status quo to disgust with Evans’ behavior.
“The ethics scandal where he was trying to use some of his position and his influence on the Council to gain business on his own is just everything that reeks of pay-to-play,” says Kevin Ryan, a 39-year-old walking with his partner and three kids in tow. “And that’s a line we can’t cross for an elected official.”
Judy Brody, a 79-year-old who signed the petition, believes Evans has done a lot of good for the ward but is disappointed in the recent revelations.
“I don’t like what Jack Evans did, but it’s a lot more nuanced and subtle, and our take on things is like good or bad, and if it’s bad then it’s all bad, but it isn’t,” she says. “I have an issue with his apparent behavior about selling access.”
A few people walk straight up to Eidinger, clearly aware of the recall effort, eager to sign. “I’ve been looking for you,” one says.
“I know [Evans] personally. He’s a jackass,” says another enthusiastic Evans-hater and petition-signer.
But of all the people who stop to talk to Eidinger, only one refuses to sign the petition out of allegiance to Evans. The woman from Foggy Bottom doesn’t want to give LL her name, but says she’s known Evans for more than 20 years and has hosted a reception for him in her home.
She says Evans’ use of his Council office to send business proposals to legal and lobbying firms amounts to a “bad ethical lapse,” yet the positive things he’s done for the city and her long term relationship with him stop her from signing the petition.
Still, she would be disappointed if Evans ran for re-election. (Evans has previously told LL that he intends to run.)
“I understand he has two challengers,” she says.
“It’s three now,” LL corrects her.
“Well that should be a big signal to him because his goal was always to head off having challengers,” the woman says. “That was his strategy.”
By noon, Eidinger has filled three petition sheets—a total of 60 signatures. The other two volunteers got about 25 more between the two of them.
Eidinger considers it a successful haul, and as the three of them make their way back to his house, he continues to stop people on the sidewalk.
“Are you a Ward 2 voter?” he asks.
Back in Eidinger’s Kalorama house, he, Gellen, and Salsgiver kick back in the gong room, named for the giant gong he bought for sound healing and meditation, and enjoy another joint. Eidinger opens an envelope with a $200 donation to the recall campaign.
Had the Council taken stronger action against Evans, like removing him as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, Eidinger says he may not have pursued a recall.
“They’re not holding him accountable. The mayor is painting the streets with him,” he says, referring to a recent video of Evans and Mayor Muriel Bowser trying to paint a new bus lane.
Eidinger knows the battle he’s up against. No councilmember has ever been recalled in the Home Rule era, and it’s possible that Evans will appeal the Board of Elections’ approval of the recall petition. His attorney, Donald Dinan, did not return a call seeking comment.
“The first signatures are going to be the easiest ones to get,” Eidinger says. “It’s the last 2 or 3 percent that are going to be hard. We’ll be hunting for people.”
He says local data analyst and DC for Democracy political director Keith Ivey provided a list of Ward 2 voters who signed petitions for the Initiative 77 referendum, and the campaign has developed what he calls “walk sheets,” which show where all the registered voters in Ward 2 live.
“I’m imploring D.C. residents from across all eight wards to donate anything,” Eidinger says. “$10, $40, $500 is the max. If I have the money, I’m guaranteeing this on the ballot.”