On a recent afternoon, the District’s longest serving councilmember parks his convertible outside a child-care center and wonders what he’s doing.
“OK, Andrew,” Jack Evans asks his spokesman, Andrew Huff, as the Chrysler Sebring’s roof glides shut. ‘Why are we here?”
They’re here, of course, for the pictures. Martha’s Table, a nonprofit just outside Evans’ ward, is opening a new kitchen area. To know Evans is to know that he loves to get his picture taken. Some 266 smiling Jacks stare out from the walls of his council office. The pictures—of celebrities, presidents, and local political types—are regularly rotated, staffers say, based on who’s coming in to visit. No matter which snapshots get the most prominent display, it is the most impressive vanity wall in city politics.
Since no other boldface names are on hand, today’s pictures likely won’t wind up on the wall. But they might wind up in Evans’ newsletter, helping show the world—or at least the good citizens of Ward 2, which stretches from Georgetown to Shaw—that the councilmember is still out and about.
After posing for a group photo, Evans wants more. He gets down on one knee, grabbing the nearest kids for an impromptu chat with Uncle Jack. Evans rapidly asks their names and ages. The kids look a little nervous. Huff snaps away. “Congratulations,” Evans tells the kids as the transaction ends. “You got a new refrigerator.”
Twenty years in office is more than enough time to learn that photos count. But 20 years on the D.C. Council is also long enough to challenge anyone’s enthusiasm.
And lately, the Evans who appears in local news stories hasn’t been the same happy camper as the Evans who appears in ribbon-cutting pictures.
Earlier this fall, Evans told reporters that this is the worst council he’s ever served on, an unusual breach of protocol. He’s been even more pointed in private, calling Council Chairman Kwame Brown an “idiot.” In meetings with constituents, he trashes various colleagues. His relations with Mayor Vince Gray are cordial, but more distant than his ties to the last two mayors—both of whose bases, unlike Gray’s, overlapped with Evans’ largely white, affluent ward.
“You are in a foul mood today,” Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells wrote in a note he passed to Evans during a recent council breakfast. Evans had just lectured colleagues on their alleged inability to kick long-term recipients off welfare. When Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham spoke up about “the children,” Evans closed his eyes and put his head back in his chair, either annoyed, half-asleep, or both.
“Every day coming over here is not joyful to him,” a colleague says. “He gives off this vibe of being very angry, very grumpy.”
But instead of not taking it anymore, Evans wants another round. Friends say they’ve talked to him about exploring life outside the council, where he might make more money and have fewer headaches. Evans won’t hear of it. “He likes being a big man on campus,” says developer pal Herb Miller, who used to be Evans’ Georgetown neighbor.
And it looks like Evans won’t be leaving campus any time soon. He’s currently running unopposed, since his sole challenger dropped out last week. But Evans still has had a packed fundraising schedule and raised about $300,000, according to his campaign.
It’s a conundrum. Jack Evans seems terribly unhappy in a job he desperately wants to keep. He wants to be a big player in a city government he can’t stand. He curates a public vanity wall featuring snapshots of colleagues he privately disdains.
That tension might help explain Evans’ schizophrenic record, which combines large achievements with noteworthy missteps. The achievements include helping recast the council as a place that wasn’t automatically in favor of bloated government and high taxes. The missteps, though, have tended to involve the unholy confluence of political donations and moneyed interests.
It’s a tension that invites questions about whether four more years of Evans is good for the District. The longest serving councilmember may have established a track record to be proud of during his early years in office, in which budget deficits, not ethics crises, represented the council’s biggest challenge.
But for all of Evans’ unhappiness with the chamber’s much-maligned current leadership, it’s not a track record that suggests he’s the obvious guy to fix the problems of what would be his sixth term.
Like most good stories, the tale of how Jack Evans came to D.C. involves a girl. The son of a florist and a teacher, he’d grown up in Nanticoke, Pa. With degrees from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he landed a Beltway job with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. On a date, a woman mocked his choice of residence: “Shirlington—that’s suburban death.”
“I said, ‘I’ll never get a date if I live in suburban death,’” Evans says. So he bought a condo in Dupont Circle. Before long, he was involved in local politics. He helped found the Ward 2 Democrats and served as treasurer on the Democratic State Committee. After serving as an ANC commissioner, Evans ran in a special election for the council in 1991. Running on a platform of trimming city government, Evans won by only 400 votes, beating Jim Zais, a former Marion Barry aide who hoped to be the first openly gay councilmember.
In light of Evans’ current reputation of the champion of development, one aspect of that first race stands out. “We’re not going to accept money from large-scale developers who have dominated the political scene,” Evans told the Post during his campaign. On election night, he said his victory “completed the revolution” that began when Sharon Pratt took over from Barry the year before. “[Voters] thought I was a fresh face. That’s what they really want.”
Twenty years on, Evans doesn’t claim to be either a fresh face or a foe of developers. At his reelection kickoff party Monday, he joked how he’d gone from the candidate of “youth, energy, and change” to “common sense, wisdom, and experience.” In an interview, he complains about being unfairly typecast as big builders’ puppet.
But even supporters say Evans’ views have changed. “I think he’s evolved, is how I would say it,” says Linda Greenan, Evans’ first chief of staff, who currently represents Georgetown University. “He has kind of walked that line of understanding the benefit of development, but with controls.”
And Evans certainly isn’t shy about showing off the benefits brought by development—and by Jack Evans—when we hop into his spotless Sebring for a Ward 2 tour.
First stop: Verizon Center. “Clearly I was the major player in getting the Verizon Center downtown,” Evans says.
We pass the convention center. “You can’t mention the convention center without saying my name,” he adds. (In fact, the building is named for former D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington.)
As we drive, we briefly talk about Evans’ term as Metro Board of Directors chairman in the mid-’90s. “It was working pretty well when I was the chairman,” says Evans, referring to the system’s current troubles. “My contribution was to get the system built and up and running.”
We head into Shaw, where Evans promptly takes credit for a variety of structures, including the beautiful Watha T. Daniel/Shaw branch library. Over the years, Evans has occasionally received flak for allegedly not doting on the ward’s poorest neighborhood, which will soon be redistricted out of Ward 2. Evans says he feels like he’s devoted more time to Shaw than anywhere else.
Next it’s on to Logan Circle. Evans extols his work changing a liquor law, which enabled the opening of the neighborhood-changing P Street Whole Foods. “You have to have a councilmember whose been here, who understands how to change the law, [and] to get the votes to change the law,” he says.
The sites keep coming. There’s the dog park on 17th Street: “We were absolutely responsible for getting that built.” The renovations of the Jewish Community Center: “Majorly responsible.” And the 15th street bike lane: You can thank Jack Evans for that, too.
Then it’s on to Georgetown, where Evans’ house backs up to the Bowie-Sevier mansion, one of D.C.’s most expensive homes. We pass his favorite restaurant, Café Milano. Evans tells me how “run down” Georgetown’s sidewalks and streetscapes were when he was first elected. “It was a mess,” Evans says, until he came along.
Evans knows that he’s not solely responsible for any single project, but says it’s still fair for him to make what I would learn is one of his favorite declarations: “But for me, this wouldn’t have gotten done.”
There aren’t too many people arguing. Colleagues describe Evans as a tenacious, focused, and effective legislator who knows how to find the money and the votes to get developers moving. “He’s just somebody you want to have on your side and you don’t want to have on the other side,” says former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson. “He’s a pro,” says Wells, who’s known as a big-business skeptic and says he was initially wary of Evans.
Besides the business of building big buildings, Evans has carved out a role as the council’s fiscal hawk. During Williams’ first term, Evans put together a super majority to lower income taxes against the wishes of the mayor and the financial control board. “He is the champion we could always count on,” says Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Lang’s members show their love in return. Evans has raised millions in his twenty years in office, much of it via bundled donations from developers and business interests.
For instance, the Post reported that the owners of the city’s biggest road paving company, Fort Myer Construction, were among the biggest financial backers of Evans’ failed mayoral bid, donating $17,000. And in his most recent race Evans has already collected $6,000 from a single real estate firm, via $500 donations from 12 different LLCs.
(Evans’ campaign finance forms are a testament to how easy it is to legally get around the District’s $500 donation limits. Donors use multiple LLCs and family members to boost giving totals.)
Evans’ embrace of the business community doesn’t mean he’s necessarily consistent on fiscal policy. He called himself the “king of earmarks,” and wasn’t shy about shoveling money to pet causes before the council banned the practice. In 2008, Evans helped secure $500,000 for the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a nonprofit that organized the national marathon, paid its CEO $415,278—and staged a fundraiser for, you guessed it, Evans. And though Evans continually speaks out about the growth of social services spending, he says most of his earmarks were for arts groups. “This city has enough money to do that,” he adds.
No one ever said that combining a reputation as a dealmaker and a fiscal hawk was easy.
“There are two people on the city council who make things happen,” Miller says. “One’s Jack and the other’s Marion Barry.”
Evans once had a reputation as a rebel. During his early years on the council, he was part of a faction known as the Young Turks, a group that included colleagues Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil, and Bill Lightfoot. They frequently clashed with Barry and older councilmembers over lowering taxes and reducing government spending.
Today, Evans and Barry have a genuine, if unlikely, friendship. Evans’ favorite Barry story involves the 2008 funeral of Bishop S.C. “Sweet Daddy” Madison of the United House of Prayer for All People, a prominent African-American congregation located in Ward 2.
“Marion said, ‘Can I catch a ride with you?’ and I said ‘Sure, yeah, that’s no problem,’” Evans says. “The service is at twelve o’clock, and so I go over at 11:30 and he goes ‘Go away. What are you doing here? Eleven-thirty? Come back,’ and I said ‘OK, I’ll come back.’ So it’s quarter to twelve and I go over, my hands are starting to sweat, and I said, ‘Ready to go?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no no.’ It’s ten to twelve, five to twelve, the service starts at twelve o’clock. So I go over and he looks at me says ‘Jack, I know how to do black churches.”
The pair arrived 15 minutes late. When they walked in, there was an ovation as the pair took their front-pew seats. Barry turned to Evans and said, “I told you so.”
It’s not just punctuality. Among colleagues, he’s famous for balancing his checkbook on the council dais. “If you ask Jack how much was his water bill in 1992 in December, he can tell you,” says Councilmember David Catania. Greenan says that many years ago Evans was in a fender-bender while out of town and asked her to get an insurance file from his apartment. When she opened Evans’ personal file cabinet, there was a file with her name on it. “It freaked me out,” she says. Inside turned out to be nothing but generic birthday cards she’d given Evans in past years. “There was no reason to save anything like that.”
When I first approached Evans with my plans to write a cover story about him, he disappeared for a few moments before showing up with a yellowing 1991 issue of Washington City Paper, the last time the paper put an Evans profile on the cover. “Who else can pull shit like that?” Evans asked. “That’s what you ought to write.”
“I think the highlight of his day is going to the carwash,” says WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, who is also one of Evans’ closest friends.
Evans’ OCD tendencies, in fact, might provide a thesis as to how he can be so comfortable with money-and-politics chumminess in his own career, but so outraged about the D.C. Council’s current state: The downright sloppy way his colleagues have lately been accused of misusing their positions would offend any neat freak’s sense of order.
Evans doesn’t have that easy-going nature that allows politicians like Bill Clinton (who once jogged with Evans and shows up 12 times on Evans’ vanity wall) to connect with people. When meeting strangers, he seems aloof and distracted. He walks with shoulders hunched forward; more than one person compared his physical appearance to Montgomery Burns, the nuclear power plant owner from The Simpsons.
But the lack of raw political charisma hasn’t deterred Evans from dreaming about moving up.
In 1998, Evans tried to succeed Barry as mayor. He raised more than $1 million. But Williams took all of the rich, white voters Evans would have needed, leaving him with just 10 percent of the overall vote.
Evans planned another run in 2005, but pulled the plug shortly after commissioning a private poll. “The results were difficult for Jack to see,” says Chuck Thies, a political consultant who co-chaired the exploratory committee but says he never saw the unpublished poll’s actual numbers. Evans then said he was “definitely” going to run for council chairman. But he changed his mind on that race, too, citing family reasons. (His first wife died of cancer in 2003; at the time, Evans was a single father raising triplets. He remarried last year.)
At a recent roast of Evans at the Four Seasons, the most trenchant line in a night of soft zingers came courtesy of NBC4’s Tom Sherwood, who gave Evans a T-shirt that read “I’m kind of a big deal.” Said Sherwood: “You’ve almost kind of made it, Mr. Evans. You’ve almost kind of made it.”
Evans made noise about running for chairman last year. Friends and colleagues say there’s no doubt he would still make a citywide run if the right opportunity—say, a federal indictment against an incumbent—presented itself.
But at present, Evans repeats what all good politicians say: He’s happy as the Ward 2 councilmember and is focused only on the election ahead of him. Of course, most good politicians dreaming of a citywide race would also avoid conspicuously dissing fellow pols, but that’s another story.
It’s a rainy fall evening and Evans is at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Catholic Church in Sheridan-Kalorama for an ANC meeting. The small group of gray hairs listens to Evans’ update on city life before asking him about parking and road paving. Then one man asks about the council’s ethics problems.
“Enough already,” the man says. “We’re tired of the SUVs and we’re tired of all of it. Tired of it.”
Evans agrees. “It’s an embarrassment,” he says.
Evans gives a brief rundown of the three elected officials currently under federal investigation. Brown’s 2008 campaign can’t account for $170,000 it paid to Brown’s brother, and the chairman also had to return a taxpayer-funded Lincoln Navigator whose $2,000-a-month price tag caused an uproar. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. agreed to pay back the city $300,000 after being sued for allegedly using a city earmark for “youth baseball” to buy an Audi SUV and golf outings. And Gray has been accused of promising a minor mayoral candidate a city job in exchange for help on last year’s campaign trail.
“I can’t pass a law saying you have to elect honest people,” says Evans, getting himself slightly worked up.
“What are in God’s name are my colleagues doing renting SUVs? Fully loaded—why were they doing that?” Evans says “The mayor’s still driving in one. I don’t know. Why are you still driving around in one of those? I don’t know….I’m serving on the worst [council] right now. I’ve never seen more ridiculousness, more investigation, more self-servingness.”
But Evans’ tough talk doesn’t match his legislative record. Over his 20 years, he’s pushed for balanced budgets, but done little in the way of enacting new restrictions on political influence—a place where his legislative skills would come in handy. Though he vents before supportive community groups, he hasn’t joined the trio of colleagues who recently stuck their necks out to demand Thomas’ resignation. In the current discussion on how to clean up city politics, Evans hasn’t exactly been out front. His sole contribution was speaking up at a meeting to suggest stiffer penalties for pols who fail to disclose required information.
Evans’ own history, though, shows he has a warped sense of what ought to be disclosed. While he calls for tougher enforcement of existing laws, he also seems perfectly happy with what they do—and don’t—prohibit.
Evans’ biggest bloody nose came in 2005, when the city press corps started asking about an Evans-controlled political action committee. “Jack PAC” legally accepted unlimited donations from some of the city’s most connected lobbyists, developers, and business types. A billboard company that benefited from Evans-sponsored legislation gave $10,000.
It turned out PAC expenditures included $816.46 to travel to a baseball all-star game, meals at Café Milano, and $12,960 for first-row Washington Nationals season tickets, among other entertainments. The Office of Campaign Finance found accounting irregularities, though nothing rose to the level of an illegal or even finable offense. But legally compliant and ethically sound aren’t always the same thing, and Evans did not handle the extra attention well. In fact, he made matters worse by initially withholding information from reporters and regulators.
When asked about a $6,772.72 charge the PAC reported as “expenses incurred during China delegation trip,” Evans initially told the Post that the money covered his expenses on a trip to Asia with several elected officials. But after then-Council Chairman Linda Cropp revealed that the trip was paid for by tax dollars, Evans disclosed that PAC money actually paid for the travel expenses of his friend Marsha Ralls, a former beauty queen and Georgetown art gallery owner. Evans and the PAC initially argued that there was nothing improper about a PAC paying Ralls’ way. Eventually, he paid for her trip out of his own pocket.
Another revelation during the kerfuffle: Evans and his PAC said that there was no list of the “activists, advocates, opinion makers, and leaders in citywide politics and business” who he had taken to Nationals games. When OCF indicated that this meant Evans would have to pay for the season tickets himself, a list was provided.
If the whole episode proved embarrassing, it didn’t necessarily teach him a lesson. City records show that after the PAC was shut down, Evans began using his constituent service fund—which also raises money from private sources—to again buy premium season tickets. And not just for traditional sports, either: Evans also dropped $5,300 for what appears to be four tickets at a VIP table for 16 Washington Kastles tennis matches last season. The sports spending turned into great fodder for a Post story earlier this year, which calculated that Evans had spent nearly $140,000 of someone else’s money over the past decade on sports tickets.
Evans said his personal use of the tickets is “de minimus” and that the fund had never turned down requests from needy residents.
It’s instructive to imagine what would happen if the Jack PAC story came to light today, when worries about ethics dominate city political chatter. Granted, there’s a big difference between Jack PAC and the troubles of Thomas and Brown, But the same sense of entitlement prevails, even if no one is accused of illegality.
Then there’s the matter of Evans’ dual role as a councilmember and as a lawyer at Patton Boggs, D.C.’s most influential lobbying firms. His critics wonder what Evans does to earn the $190,000 annual salary the firm pays him. Evans says he does securities-related work, and the workload varies. He adds that Patton Boggs is a civic-oriented firm and doesn’t begrudge his time spent as a councilmember.
But the most recent scrum involving Evans’ outside employment led to questions about whether he’s fully complied with city law. Evans recused himself in 2009 from voting on a $272 million city financing package for a hotel next to the convention center. City law requires that officials file a written explanation of recusals. Evans never did.
The D.C. Council’s attorney cleared Evans of wrongdoing based on Evans’ claim that Patton Boggs had no connection to Marriott, which will operate the hotel. When Evans made the attorney’s memo public, I asked if Patton Boggs had any connection to the two developers involved in the deal. He said no.
But a few days later, I was sent an email written by a former Evans aide in 2009 explaining that Evans rescued himself from the convention center votes because Patton Boggs represented ING, a real estate investment firm that helped finance the deal. When I went to Evans for an explanation, he acted as if there was nothing to explain. “There’s no connection between ING and the city,” he said, then declined to answer any more questions.
Evans was similarly tight-lipped when I asked about why his outside income dropped from $240,000 during the previous four years to $190,000 last year. Had he gotten a pay cut? No. Evans would only say that Patton Boggs has always paid him $190,000. He wouldn’t indicate where the extra $50,000 had been coming from.
When pressed, Evans said he was following city law. “It doesn’t require that to be disclosed,” he says. “That’s my answer.”
This is Evans pulling back. I’m in his office for an interview and he’s trying to deny things I plan to report, things he thinks make him look bad. Balance his checkbook on the dais? “Never.” Call Kwame Brown an idiot? Not true.
“You’re weird. Go away, “ Evans says.
These are things I’ve confirmed with multiple sources. I’ve even heard Evans call Brown an idiot myself, and checked with others close to him who have heard Evans say it also. “More than once,” says Plotkin. “I think he has a great disdain and contempt for a lot of these councilmembers.”
But Evans doesn’t relent. He says his criticism of his colleagues on the current council is limited to their dealings on city financial matters only. “I never refer to any of my colleagues except in the most glowing terms. That’s my comment and I’m sticking to it,” he says, before offering an awkward laugh.
Twenty years in office mean that Evans knows that players don’t get far ragging on their colleagues. He may not like some of them, but he’s still got to work with them. There are big deals to be made, like maybe getting the Redskins to come back to town. Evans wants to be at the table. And if that means putting up with people he can’t stand and reinventing himself as a good-government crusader at the eleventh hour, it’s a tradeoff Evans is willing to grin and bear. At least some of the time.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that you can outlast everyone,” he says.