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In his insurgent bid to unseat longtime Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, community activist Cary Silverman, has a favorite attack strategy: Repeat, over and over again, that Evans isn’t being a “full-time councilmember,” highlighting his $250,000-per-year side gig as a corporate lawyer.
And Evans has a favorite response: “I have two full-time jobs,” he says, over and over again, “I’m a full-time councilmember, and a full-time father to my three children.”
It’s a line that pulls hard on heartstrings, with his wife Noel Evans having died in 2003 after a battle with breast cancer, leaving the four-term council incumbent to raise his 11-year-old triplets—Christine, John, and Katherine—alone.
In this year’s race against the tenacious Silverman, he’s shown no compunction about invoking his kids for campaign purposes. The line above comes verbatim from a debate in Dupont Circle earlier this month, and other audiences have heard slightly different pronouncements.
In a robocall that Evans sent to Ward 2 voters earlier this month, the script started out thusly: “Since my wife passed away five years ago, I’ve been a single parent to my 11-year-old triplets.”
The phrase “single parent,” of course, has connotations: A female, left to struggle to raise her kids thanks to a deadbeat father, maybe even working two jobs to make things meet. And those two jobs probably don’t include being a $93,000-a-year legislator and being “of counsel” at white-shoe law firm Patton Boggs.
LL asked Evans whether the term had a certain social resonance. “Sure it does,” he says. “Look at our city—there’s a lot of single parents. Someone in my position can better empathize with people who are in that situation.…You want someone who understands it.”
OK, but what does it mean to be Georgetown-homeowner Jack Evans, single parent, as opposed to, say, a Shaw-resident-with-a-housing-voucher single parent? Evans says that he employs a nanny for his kids, five days a week, in addition to receiving gratis help from friends and family of his wife. Asked for more details about the nannying, he says, “I’d rather steer clear of that.”
Focusing on the hired help, suggests Evans, is an act of cynicism. “If someone were to look at it that way, that would be missing the point,” he says. More important than spending money, he says, is spending time. “I get up at 6 a.m., I take a shower, I get the kids up, take orders for breakfast,” he says.
Silverman realizes that he won’t score points by wading into the single-parent debate. “My reaction is, just get back to what this issue is,” says the challenger.
In Silverman’s rhetoric, the issue is that D.C. councilmembers are paid too much to have other jobs. And he’s been traveling from candidate forum to block party to stoop shopping this well-worn message, perhaps unaware of its effectiveness in past campaigns.
“I’ll be a full-time councilmember” is a line mouthed by a whole pantheon of failed council challengers. Harold Brazil, also a lawyer, fielded the full-time attacks when he held the Ward 6 seat. And Kevin Chavous, yet another lawyer, took similar broadsides during his time as Ward 7’s council rep.
The fact is that voters generally don’t begrudge their councilmembers side jobs, so long as the trash is getting picked up, the alleys are clean, and their rep’s office is responsive when trouble hits.
An incumbent’s best response to the full-time-councilmember assault is to filibuster: Tell people how much time you spend on the job, finessing legislation, listening to complaints, monitoring e-mail from constituents, attending civic meetings, etc. Instead of doing that, Evans has opted for the more risky, and slightly creepy, tack of playing up the death of his wife, leaving him open to charges that he’s leveraging family tragedy for his political career.
Rob Halligan, a Dupont Circle neighborhood activist who recently endorsed Silverman, says Evans uses his kids “as a prop,” and that he’s been doing it even before the campaign. “When he doesn’t want to go to a meeting or stay at a meeting, it’s a class play,” he says. (Halligan could cite no example where Evans had lied about attending an event with his children.)
Why is Evans playing up his fatherhood? Jitters. In past election cycles, the Ward 2 rep has seen what happens to long-serving politicians who face younger, energetic challengers. They lose, as made clear by Adrian M. Fenty’s 2000 defeat of Charlene Drew Jarvis and Kwame R. Brown’s 2004 defeat of Harold Brazil. Both of those incumbents, like Evans, had served multiple terms on the dais and, like Evans, were painted as toadies of vested interests.
Silverman has connected Evans to the establishment by playing up his part-time work at Patton, where his official bio plays up his work on “corporate and securities matters including mergers and acquisitions, enforcement procedures and all aspects of federal and state securities laws,” as well as “real estate matters.” Silverman, of course, has few populist credentials of his own, considering that he works for Kansas City-based firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, renowned for taking the cases of controversial corporate clients. He vows to bag that job if elected to the council.
So, at the end of the day, what you got here is two successful white men—both of them lawyers—engaged in a monthslong debate about the work week. “It’s always kind of a red herring,” says Evans.
• For fresh-faced world leaders in abeyance, there’s no place to nurture your political jones like on the floor of a national party convention. That’s why we have the institution of the convention page, an occupation usually reserved for eager high school or college-aged kids.
LL, for instance, was once a young Democratic convention page. In 1996, he sat around the Indiana delegation’s HQ in a Chicago hotel plugging names into databases. The highlight of his pagely duties was escorting a pissy Sen. Christopher Dodd to his suite in the United Center. Fun stuff.
But when it comes to this year’s D.C. delegation, the kids won’t get to revel in inane busywork or vexed politicos. The D.C. Democratic State Committee is ditching youth in favor of two delegation pages who are somewhat more, um, experienced: For instance, there’s Deborah Royster, 52, a Pepco executive and chair of the Ward 4 Democrats.
“I’m sure I’m the oldest page on record,” Royster says.
Not true—the District’s other page is 57-year-old Jim Berry, a Truxton Circle community activist and a longtime advisory neighborhood commissioner.
Anita Bonds, chair of the local Dems, says that her group had youth pages four years ago in Boston, but she decided this time out to go with experience over the experience. “I was looking for people who wanted to be an asset to the committee,” she says, noting that the kids “weren’t quite mature enough” for the work.
LL watched Berry working hard Sunday and Monday in the D.C. delegation headquarters, helping to wrangle delegates together for key events and put voting-rights materials together. He says his duties “are gonna be the grunt stuff. Whatever the delegation needs.”
Berry attended the 2004 convention as a delegate, and, he says, “I resolved when I went there that I would never miss another one.”
Bonds points out that the delegation includes four “junior pages”—kids chosen through a contest earlier this year to lobby conventioneers on the District’s lack of franchise.
Those kids, dubbed “voting rights scholars,” were the brainchild of Jeffrey Richardson, who heads a rival faction in the local party. Richardson says that raising the money to get the kids to Denver was a touch-and-go affair until mere weeks ago. Councilmember Brown stepped in last month to help out, offering to leverage his considerable fundraising muscle to get backers to pony up for airfare and hotels for the kids. Verizon, for instance, gave $2,500 toward the flights.
Also, there’s only two credentials for the four voting rights scholars, and those aren’t full floor credentials—they offer access only to the concourse and seating areas of the Pepsi Center. Bonds said on Monday the kids would have floor access for the evening.
• One of LL’s guilty pleasures is HBO’s male-fantasy-fodder series, Entourage. And he has some words of advice for the network: If things don’t work out with Adrian Grenier & Co., they might want to consider Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss and his merry band.
After all, no one in D.C. politics rolls like Strauss.
Strauss arrived at the convention Monday with no fewer than seven aides. (Don’t call them interns: When LL made that mistake while questioning Strauss, he protested, “People say intern with a smirk, and it’s just not fair”—never mind that several wear credentials reading intern.) Most, Strauss says, paid their own way.
Their duties vary from doing advance work to advancing the voting-rights dialogue. And, Strauss says, the size of the retinue is in keeping with his position. “Compared to other senators,” he says, “it’s the smallest team.”
By way of comparison locally, congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has five aides in tow here. Fellow shadow senator Michael D. Brown arrived with a single aide.
On Monday, Strauss wasn’t only surrounded by staffers. He had a crew from Paris-based BFM-TV, a 24-hour news channel that Strauss described as a “cross between NewsChannel 8 and CNN,” following him as he made his convention rounds.
“I’m big in France,” Strauss says. “Just like Jerry Lewis.”
• Some familiar faces are absent from the D.C. crowd this year. Not among the politicos, mind you—Councilmember Marion Barry, for one, was holding court in the Crowne Plaza lobby bar as LL was typing out this column Monday evening.
Nope, two giants of local media—WTOP’s Mark Plotkin and WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood—were left to take it all in from home. (Covering the locals has fallen to LL, the Post’s David Nakamura; DCist’s Sommer Mathis; Leon Harris, Gordon Peterson, and Rebecca Cooper from WJLA-TV; and Patrick McGrath from WTTG-TV.)
Both sidelined reporters expressed their disappointment to LL.
Sherwood says he found out he wouldn’t be making the trip only last week, and says the decision was made for “budget reasons.” He hasn’t missed a convention, Democratic or Republican, since 1988, and he attended the ’84 Democratic affair to boot. Asked what he’ll miss most, Sherwood said, “This sounds corny, but showing the local people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia a part of history.”
Asked about the budget situation, Sherwood’s boss, VP of news Camille Edwards, says, “I don’t really discuss things like that,” though she admitted that budgets are tightening across the local news industry. Channel 4, she says, has plenty of NBC network resources to draw on to cover the local delegation.
Yeah right: LL can’t wait for that Brian Williams one-on-one with Harry Thomas Jr.
Plotkin declined to blame the decision not to send him or any other in-house WTOP reporter to what he calls “the quadrennial highlight of my life” on any budget pressures, saying station owner Bonneville International has “plenty of resources.”
“Conventions have been a part of my life,” he says, having attended every Democratic confab since 1968—that’s 10 of ’em—plus four Republican shindigs to boot. The listeners aren’t going to go without in this age of corporate synergy, he says, with reports coming into the powerhouse news station from reporters who get their paychecks from CNN, CBS, and Politico.
“Maybe the benefit of all this is there’s less Plotkin to listen to,” he says. “Less Plotkin is more!”
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