Courtesy Patrick Kennedy

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Patrick Kennedy announced last week that he’s making a run for the Ward 2 Council seat, which Councilmember Jack Evans has occupied since 1991. 

Kennedy immediately hit a snag. The 27-year-old is the first candidate to test the District’s new publicly funded elections program, run through the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). Evans, who ran unopposed in the past two election cycles, raised $227,000 in 2016 and $370,000 in 2012. He has largely relied on the business community to build his fund. 

The program provides taxpayer dollars to candidates who agree to accept smaller donations and reject donations from business entities. If Kennedy qualifies for the program as a candidate for a ward seat, he could receive a total of $40,000 as well as funds to match donations from District residents at a rate of 5 to 1. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget includes $3.2 million for the fair elections program.

But when Kennedy went to sign up for the program, he says OCF gave confusing answers for how to comply with the law.

Specifically, Kennedy says OCF initially told him that those wishing to donate to his campaign must physically sign a document affirming their donation. 

For a campaign that relies on small-dollar donations, most of which will be made online, Kennedy is concerned that requiring donors to print out, sign, and scan a document will be too much of a hassle.

“To this point, it’s been difficult because OCF is requiring us to obtain more information from donors than from traditional campaigns,” says Kennedy, who is a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in Foggy Bottom and previously served as Evans’ campaign chairman.

Kennedy’s campaign treasurer, Marina Streznewski, says the online campaign donation platform ActBlue is refusing to host candidates in D.C.’s fair elections program due in part to a lack of clarity in the regulations, which are still in draft form.

However, the fair elections program manager, Erick Jackson, testified in front of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which oversees OCF, that digital signatures are acceptable.

From Kennedy’s perspective, there is still a question of how OCF will define a digital signature.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we raise money for months and then somebody in the audit division says ‘This doesn’t work,’” he says. “We just need more guidance from them at this point.”

Wesley Williams, a spokesperson for OCF, says his office will meet with members of Kennedy’s campaign this week to work out the details.

Kennedy is the first person to officially challenge the entrenched incumbent. With Evans mired in scandal, others may soon follow.

The D.C. Council voted to reprimand Evans last month for using his Council office to email business pitches seeking employment with legal firms that lobby the D.C. government. In those proposals, Evans touted his relationships and influence as a councilmember and chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Evans has held outside employment for nearly his entire 28-year tenure as a councilmember. He has pledged to retire from his moonlighting career, but on March 31 renewed the business licence for his home-based consulting firm.

Evans is also the target of a federal investigation that has resulted in subpoenas sent to the D.C. Council and the mayor’s office seeking information about Evans and his extra-Council employment.

Before Kennedy announced his candidacy, he spoke with Evans and says the councilmember was adamant in his belief that the federal investigation will vindicate him.

“Without knowing where the criminal inquiry will lead, what he’s already stipulated to with those emails is disqualifying enough in my view,” says Kennedy. “It’s sad that he felt the need to solicit work based on his resume. It calls into question and brings a cloud over everything he does.”

While Kennedy is seizing on Evans’ vulnerability, he also takes issue with several of his recent votes. Kennedy disagrees with Evans’ opposition to decriminalizing Metro fare evasion, for example, and his opposition to lowering the voting age to 16. Evans also voted to repeal the voter-approved Initiative 77. Kennedy says he does not support overturning the will of voters.

In a broader sense, Kennedy believes Evans it out of touch with issues currently facing the District, such as widening inequality, affordable housing, and transportation.

“I think Jack is invested in solving problems that plagued the District in the ’90s when people were leaving in droves, we had 400 homicides a year, and the city was financially bankrupt,” he says. “His policy prescriptions are geared toward a city in that state, and he hasn’t conceptualized solutions that plague the District today.”

Evans did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, another neighborhood commissioner in Logan Circle tells LL he’s considering a run. Though he hasn’t officially filed the proper paperwork, John Fanning is certainly talking like a candidate.

Like Kennedy, Fanning disagrees with Evans’ vote to repeal Initiative 77 and his opposition to fare evasion decriminalization.

Fanning touts his own collaboration with churches in his neighborhood to develop a senior housing project and even throws a slight jab at Kennedy, who is the treasurer of the Ward 2 Democrats.

“A little of my disappointment is the Ward 2 Democrats has been dysfunctional for over four years, and Patrick has been an officer,” Fanning says. “He didn’t do anything to encourage the organization to become more active so that the Democratic voters of Ward 2 could get active in the democratic process.”

(Kennedy acknowledges that the organization has lacked enthusiasm and says it has been difficult to convince people to engage. “I understand some of the frustrations people have, and I think it’s good others want to step up and get involved,” he says.) 

If Fanning does decide to run, he says he will also enroll in the public elections program.

“[Jack’s] always had a huge war chest, and fair elections will give candidates like Patrick and I an opportunity to get our message out,” he says.