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During the D.C. Council’s closed-door meeting last week, Chairman Phil Mendelson urged no further punishment beyond the proposed reprimand of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, according to multiple sources, including Mendelson.
For the past few weeks, the chairman has resisted calls to establish a special Council committee to investigate Evans, opting instead to allow federal law enforcement authorities to complete their probe without additional political interference from the Council.
Mendelson has also refused to remove Evans as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which has significant influence over the District’s tax policy, revenue, and tourism, despite at least four councilmembers and several community groups urging such action.
He tells LL that he does not expect any councilmembers to try to remove Evans as chairman of the finance and revenue committee with an amendment to the reprimand resolution when it comes up for a vote this Tuesday.
At-Large Councilmember Robert White believes Evans should lose his chairmanship. “Councilmember Jack Evans cannot serve as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue given what appear to be clear and serious violations of the Council’s code of conduct,” he says. At-Large Councilmembers David Grosso and Elissa Silverman as well as Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau have also called for Evans’ removal from the committee.
Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has said he believes a reprimand, which would amount to a black mark on Evans’ record and carries no tangible consequences, does not go far enough. He has not suggested what level of action would be appropriate.
“The voices I’m hearing from, they want to see some type of consequence,” Allen says.
Evans did not respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon. LL will update this article if he hears back.
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When Mendelson introduced the reprimand resolution two weeks ago, he left open the possibility of harsher action from the Council if more information becomes available.
In a separate interview recently, Mendelson tells LL that he believes Evans may have lost a level of respect among his colleagues that is necessary to manage certain bills moving through the finance and revenue committee.
“I think that there may be some bills where right now he would not be the best person to manage the bill, and that could be for any number of reasons,” Mendelson says.
For example, Mendelson says “one of the reasons why I moved to recommit the homestead deduction bill last week was because my feeling was at this time, Jack does not have the command, meaning the respect, everything he needs to be able to manage bills, that bill.
“You’re asking me whether I’m concerned about bills in his committee, I think it really depends on the bill,” Mendelson says.
The chairman clarifies that he was speaking in terms of Evans’ ability in the moment, not more broadly.
With the homestead deduction bill facing some opposition among members, Evans as committee chair would be responsible for brokering a compromise in order to move it forward.
“That requires a lot of attention, as well as the ability to legislatively cajole members,” Mendelson says. “And on March 5, my assessment was that Jack didn’t have that ability. I meant to send it to the committee and with some time Jack would be in better position to work on it.”
The Council appears likely to reprimand Evans this week for using his official Council email address to solicit private work from legal firms that lobby the District government. Evans’ business relationships are also the subject of a federal probe that’s resulted in subpoenas sent to the Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s office and several private businesses.
The subpoena issued to the Council names individuals, lobbying firms, and businesses that are all deeply involved in D.C. matters.
Meanwhile, there is building political pressure for more severe action against Evans coming from outside the Council.
An effort to recall Evans from office is already underway. No member of the D.C. Council ever has been recalled.
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association and the Foggy Bottom Association have called for Mendelson to temporarily remove Evans as chairman of the finance and revenue committee and from his seat on the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The two civic groups in Evans’ home ward also want a special Council committee to investigate Evans, a move Mendelson has thus far rejected.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBTQ group that has supported Evans in the past, passed resolutions calling for him to step down from from his Democratic Party leadership post as well as to temporarily step down from his committee chairmanship.
The Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance also called on Evans to leave the finance and revenue committee.
And a letter signed by 24 members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee calls for Evans to resign his leadership role in the party as national committeeman.
Councilmember Silverman suggests that a potential temporary solution could be to move the finance and revenue committee under the Committee of the Whole, which Mendelson chairs, while the feds continue to investigate Evans. According to veteran Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu has requested Evans come in for an interview this week.
“I think the subpoena [to the Council] gave us a window into what the U.S. attorney is investigating and I’m concerned that the Council’s business could be caught up in the optics of the investigation,” Silverman says. “There might be legislation before the Council that involves entities named in the subpoena and that makes me uncomfortable.”
The chairman disagrees.
“I’ve been strong in saying we should not strip members of their committees based on allegations,” Mendelson says. “Allegations can turn out to be unfounded.”
Tom Sherwood contributed reporting.