On Jan. 17, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans walked into the WHUT-TV studio for a scheduled chat on D.C. politics. The Finance and Revenue Committee chair was slated to speak about the city budget and other prosaic topics.
Instead, Evans proposed a controversial initiative that has since boomeranged around the country, or at least to New Hampshire. Evans said that the District should move its presidential primary ahead of the Granite State’s quadrennial kickoffa power play that would shine the national spotlight on the city’s voting-rights problem.
It was vintage Nouveau Evans. Since the beginning of the year, the once-methodical councilmember has been the premier bomb-thrower of D.C.’s 13-member legislature. The guy with a reputation for keeping immaculate closets and perfect vertical files is wowing his colleagues with a streak of unpredictability. “At this time in my political career, it’s fun throwing rocks through windows,” says Evans. Who lives in Georgetown, by the way.
The swashbuckling act may be just what the three-term politician needs. Next year, Evans is up for re-election in Ward 2, where no legitimate politico has ever stepped forward to challenge the former Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commissioner. Assuming another waltz to a fourth council term, Evans in 2006 will almost certainly run for mayora job that he admittedly craves.
Over the years, Evans has built a power base within the Wilson Building corridors. But making a bona fide run at the mayor’s suite will require that Evans distance himself from the rhetorical muddle that is the D.C. Council. In recent months, he’s made significant progress toward that end. In addition to baiting the media with his primary gamesmanship, Evans grabbed notice recently with the ultimatum he delivered to D.C. Fire Chief Adrian Thompson in his confirmation hearing.
“I’m not going to support anything that deals with this department or the Metropolitan Police Department until I get answers,” declared Evans. The answers he wanted were about fire and police response to a fatal fire in Dupont Circle Jan. 15. “We’re just going to stop everything!” thundered Evans.
The Thompson episode, though, was merely a warm-up for Evans’ favorite sphere of influence: the budget. On March 19, Mayor Anthony A. Williams presented his fiscal year 2004 budget to the D.C. Council. It was a big day. In his fiscal blueprint, Williams was trying to accomplish several things.
The first was baseball.
The mayor wants D.C. to become a major-league city, and that means finding money for an estimated $400 million ballpark. Williams has already reached out to members of the business community, whose leaders have publicly expressed support for a gross-receipts tax of some sort to help pay for the stadium.
But Williams’ push for baseball coincides with painful financial tidings about the coming years. He needs to raise about $49 million in revenue to balance next year’s budget. To do so, he proposed a tax on parking and the incomes of D.C. residents earning $100,000 or moreeven though weeks before he vowed to “bite the bullet” and cut spending as much as possible to avoid tax hikes. Councilmembers had spent hours poring over the numbers in preparation for the mayor’s appearance. At the start of the session, members took turns pledging to work with the executive to navigate the city’s tough financial times.
Evans started with his mantra about out-of-control expenditures and the slippery slope to another financial control board. Then he announced: “I’m taking a different approach to the budget this year.” The councilmember who represents downtown asked if the mayor would support a 2.5 percent tax hike on local businesses: “I’m proposing a much broader tax on businesses. My question to you is, Will you support this?” The question shocked not only the mayor and council colleagues, but even Evans’ own staff.
He brags that he came up with the idea while in the company of the mayor. “I was sitting there, and it just came to me,” says Evans.
Now there’s a process guy for you.
“What all you are telling me today is that we have nowhere to [cut],” Evans lectured as Williams and his colleagues sat across the dais. “You’ve done everything to scrub this budget….I give up on trying to control taxes in this city!”
The improv routine has a power-play strategy: Evans believes that Williams’ income-tax hike has slim support on the council. He knows that businesses will shell out to land a crowd-generating stadium. However, he also knows that they won’t ante up to close a Department of Human Services budget gap. So if business says yes to baseball but no to balancing the budget, he’ll force the mayor to take another look at the budget. And perhaps scrub it some more.
That’s the drum Evans has been banging for years. In his early days, Evans watched as the council approved the irresponsible budgets that sent the city into the hands of the control board. So every time the mayor said spend, Evans said cut.
The councilmember’s off-the-cuff attitude has deep roots. “This is the approach of 11 years of frustration coming to fruition,” says Evans.
Evans’ performance has impressed some of his colleagues. “I’m delighted to see the new Mad Jack,” says Ward 3 colleague Kathy Patterson. “Obviously he’s doing a lot of good stuff, and it’s good to see.”
“I’ve been on the council 11 years. What have I got to lose?” asks Evans. “I’m not going to fight city hall.”
HAVE A GOOD NIGHT’S
SLEEP ON US
Since taking over as president last July, William Lawrence Pollard has been hard at work improving the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). A former dean of the College of Human Services and Health Professions at Syracuse University, Pollard has focused his energies on raising money and spiffing up the image of D.C.’s struggling public university.
He’s also spent some time interior-decorating: In November and December of last year, UDC spent $47,388 on furnishings for its president’s residence. The tally includes a $24,907 purchase from Ethan Allen, $4,354 in merchandise from Hecht’s, and $799 worth of stuff from Mattress Discounters.
The Rittenhouse Street NW house of the UDC president had fallen into disrepair over the years, explains UDC Board of Trustees Chair Charles Ogletree Jr. “One of our highest priorities was that we hire a local and national spokesperson for the university, and that means we needed a place to host prominent individual, local, and national leaders,” says Ogletree.
Pollard came with a reputation for raising big money. But UDC’s new leader has strictly middlebrow, upstate-New York, strip-shopping-mall tastes when it comes to spending it: A UDC log lists purchases at J.C. Penney, Linens ‘n Things, Sears, Target, and the Home Depot.
“This is not Neiman Marcus and other places, where other residents in the neighborhood, I’m sure, shop,” says Ogletree. “Mrs. [Merriette] Pollard and the president have been frugal.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The newly refurbished D.C. Council chamber on the fifth floor of the Wilson Building has many assets: a low-to-the-ground dais, state-of-the-art microphones and videocameras, and comfy chairs for those of us in the audience. But if LL had been consulted on the renovations, say, in a D.C.-politics version of Trading Spaces, LL would have installed a bullshit detector. This device would consist of a flat-screen TV so that those on the dais and those in the witness chairs could review their previous performances at council hearings.
On Tuesday, State Education Office (SEO) Director C. Vanessa Spinner explained to the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation why D.C. fed far fewer hungry children in its summer feeding program in 2002 than in 2001. Last school year, 42,210 D.C. public-school students received a free or reduced-priced lunch. Many of those youngsters rely on the SEO’s Special Nutrition and Commodities Program, otherwise known as SNAC, for a healthy breakfast and lunch during the summer months.
The day before the hearing, the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center released a report to local media that detailed just how poorly D.C.’s summer feeding program performed: SNAC fed only 14,848 children in 2002, compared with 24,890 in 2001. “Expectations were high in 2001 and leading into 2002,” reads a section of the report. “Instead participation fell dramatically in 2002.”
Spinner told Chair Kevin P. Chavous that cuts to the DCPS summer-school program reduced the number of participants as well as the number of feeding sites available.
And right at that point, LL would have turned on the bullshit detector, which would have replayed a council hearing from January 2002. That afternoon, Spinner and then-SNAC chief Michele Tingling-Clemmons publicly argued over the direction of the feeding program.
Tingling-Clemmons, who had been credited with SNAC’s success in 2001, testified that Spinner’s management put the program in jeopardy. “I need to be able to say that to you, I need to be able to say that to my director, and I need to be able to say that to my colleagues without having my job threatened and without [suffering] other kinds of harassment,” Tingling-Clemmons told Chavous.
The Ward 7 councilmember vowed to mediate differences between the two to keep SNAC on track.
Chavous never had much of an opportunity to follow through. Spinner fired Tingling-Clemmons three months later, in April (Loose Lips, 4/19/02). At the time, D.C.’s anti-hunger advocates predicted that the move would have devastating consequences for the summer food program.
They were right.
To be fair, the report cites a reduction in summer-school enrollment and summer-school feeding sites as part of the problem. But in 2001, Tingling-Clemmons worked with churches, rec centers, and other community groups to provide alternate sites. The report hints that her departure was a significant factor in SNAC’s regression: “Advocates in the District are concerned about the constant change in leadership in the SNAC office,” the report reads. “When there is no clear or consistent leadership, many of these very important responsibilities go unfilled. Children go hungry, needlessly, programs lose the important nutrition dollars that sustain them, and the City loses important federal dollars that spur the economy.”
•The District’s Power 1,250 has been set for 2003. LL’s not talking about the latest issue of Washingtonian. No, we’re referring to an even more idiotic local indicator of prestige: the low-numbered license plate.
The Williams administration seems to break out the power-politics handbook for this ritual every year: Among those newly stripped of their tags are Ward 8 rabble-rouser Mary Parham Wolfe, as well as Ward 7 resident Lorraine Whitlock, who supported Republican Carol Schwartz for mayor this time around.
And for all those wondering: Former Williams Co-Chair and Washington Teachers’ Union Executive Assistant Gwendolyn Hemphill turned her “14” tags in to the Department of Motor Vehicles last fall.CP
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