One recent stop on Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ apology tour was the monthly meeting for the DC Democratic State Committee, the local party organization. In early March, Evans walked to the stage at the Harold J. Gordon Building in Southeast to brief applause, acknowledged that he’d made mistakes, and asked a room full of local Democrats for forgiveness.
Evans’ plea came soon after about a quarter of the DSC members signed a rogue letter that called on him to resign from his post as national committeeman. In that position Evans represents D.C. on the Democratic National Committee and gets a spot on the local party’s executive committee. The letter went out without approval from the DSC’s leadership and has exposed divisions among the ranks over how to address the scandal surrounding Evans.
For the past several months, Evans has been under fire as news reports have raised questions about connections between his private consulting business and his D.C. Council office, and emails show he repeatedly tried to use his public position for private gain.
Now, there is a more formal effort to push Evans from his elected seat in the party. State committee members are expected to vote on a resolution during their next meeting on April 4 that calls for Evans to resign. The measure requires a majority vote to pass.
The proposed resolution also demands Evans disclose records of his consulting firm, NSE Consulting, LLC, including his list of clients, the amounts he was paid, and the nature of the work he did “so that District voters can decide whether his conduct in his elected and appointed roles has been appropriate and ethical.”
“We have to speak up about these things, and we can’t just feel good that we’re in the club,” says Renee Bowser (no known relation to Mayor Muriel Bowser), a Ward 4 committee member who supports the resolution. “Some people, they don’t want to make waves. They just want to be part of the club.”
Evans did not respond to requests for comment.
The proposed DSC resolution is only the latest attempt to strip Evans of his influential positions in D.C. politics.
Last week, the Council voted unanimously to reprimand Evans for violating the body’s Code of Official Conduct. The Council also gave initial approval to diminish Evans’ responsibilities as chairman of the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue. Those changes, which include removing his oversight of tax abatements and tax increment financing, require a second vote.
The reprimand stems from business proposals that show Evans peddling his influence and relationships gained as the District’s longest serving councilmember to lobbying firms. In those pitches sent from his official Council email, which were first reported by the Washington Post, Evans also touts his position as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) board and his membership in several other organizations, including the DC Democratic State Committee.
Evans is also currently the target of a federal criminal investigation into his private business dealings with a digital sign company. So far, Mayor Boswer’s office, the D.C. Council, and several of Evans’ clients have received subpoenas related to the U.S. attorney’s probe.
WMATA has launched an internal ethics investigation of its own, and Evans is also facing the beginning stages of an effort to recall him from the Council.
At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who faced criticism as the longtime chair of the DSC, voted with the rest of the Council to reprimand Evans last week.
“I do believe Councilmember Evans went too far in his actions using his government resources,” Bonds said ahead of the Council reprimand vote. “I greatly appreciate the reprimand and greatly appreciate the fact that we are showing to the public and to ourselves that that kind of behavior will not be tolerated, and we will take immediate action to make it clear that something is awry at the Council.”
Bonds’ tenure at the head of DSC was plagued by members’ frustrations over mismanagement and lack of vision. She did not seek re-election as DSC chair last year. Bonds did not respond to LL’s requests for comment on the DSC resolution.
The 2018 election brought an infusion of new members into the local Democratic party who are seeking to revitalize the organization that has been best known for its dysfunction or wasn’t really known at all outside the political class.
Renee Bowser and others who signed the unsanctioned letter represent the belief that the party needed to respond much quicker to the allegations against Evans, as several other groups, including D.C. Working Families and Jews United for Justice, had. The first major news report in the Post about Evans’ ties to the owner of the digital sign company was published in December 2018.
“I was surprised that the party did not respond since he is our national committeeman,” says Kishan Putta, the party’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus representative and a Ward 2 resident, who signed the letter. “I think that these are serious allegations, and the party should address them because he is our representative to the national Democratic Party. It’s important that our representative be credible and not be delegitimized by a federal investigation.”
That impatience led Todd Brogan, a Ward 4 committee member, to circulate the letter, which in turn frustrated those who felt restraint was a better approach.
“That disappointed me because it was starting to create some division within the organization, and that’s not something we want,” DSC Chairman Charles Wilson says. “It’s OK to disagree, but we have to do things where people feel like they’re a part of the conversation and it’s open and transparent how we came to that decision.”
Wilson says the allegations against Evans discourage him, but declines to say whether he supports the resolution. In talking with various members of the committee, he’s heard arguments on both sides. Some believe the scandal has no bearing on Evans’ ability to represent the Democrats, others want to wait for the federal investigation to conclude, and others, like Brogan, want blood.
“In my position as co-chair of voter outreach committee, that job is basically impossible while Jack Evans is at the head of the organization,” Brogan says. “It’s an embarrassment if we go into 2020 with Jack Evans as national committeeman, and would be an indication that the D.C. Democratic Party hasn’t changed.”
The DSC’s current set of bylaws require signatures from 10 percent of Democratic voters citywide to start the process to remove Evans from the committee, similar to the process to recall him from the Council.
During the committee’s search for an appropriate response, Wilson says, they realized the organization does not have a code of conduct and therefore no internal mechanism to discipline or remove a member. (Wilson and a few other committee members met last week to discuss how to draft a code of conduct, which the whole committee will later vote to approve.)
The proposed resolution is only a request and has no power to compel Evans to resign.