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As the campaign caravan of peripatetic mayoral contender Jack Evans rolled across the Benning Road bridge last Saturday afternoon, the city’s newest odd couple suddenly pulled alongside. In the shiny red 1998 Corvette convertible next to the Evans bus loaded with seniors sat beefy boxing promoter Rock Newman. The longtime loyalist of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. was chauffeuring the city’s newest political darling, former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Anthony Williams, to greet voters at the Minnesota Avenue Day celebration.
When the two caravans arrived at the festival site, police waved Evans to a distant parking lot but allowed Newman to park his Corvette, bearing the license tag “ROCK,” in an adjacent no-parking area. A steamed Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council committee that oversees the Metropolitan Police Department, sought out the police lieutenant in charge of supervising security for the festival and “strongly suggested” that he also make Newman move his car. The lieutenant complied.
Three weeks ago, Williams picked up coveted endorsements from Newman and Union Temple Baptist minister Willie Wilson, Barry’s pastor. Since then, former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford has followed suit. Williams campaign aides insist that the endorsements reflect their candidate’s front-runner status.
Evans and mayoral rival Harold Brazil have chosen a different spin, citing the endorsements as evidence that Barry’s cronies will get favorable treatment in a Williams administration. And they’ll latch on to any anecdoteno matter how far-fetchedto bolster their point.
“The point was, Here we are, the same-ol’, same-ol’,” groused Evans about the parking incident/ scandal. “Why would Williams, a reformer in government, allow that to happen?”
Probably for the same reason that Evans himself is seeking an endorsement from Hizzoner. Cognizant of Barry’s predilection for a proven winner, Evans is armed with polling results showing how his well-financed campaign has moved past the candidacies of At-Large Councilmember Brazil, who according to Evans registers about 6 percent and dropping, and Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, whose campaign war chest is emptying.
Chavous had to dig into his own pockets July 31 and come up with $25,000 to meet the campaign’s payroll and keep the lights on. The candidate lacks the cash to open a campaign office in his own ward, whereas Williams last month pointedly christened a Ward 7 headquarters in the Penn Branch Shopping Center, where Chavous conducted his successful bid for the D.C. Council six years ago.
The indefatigable Evans has even put together a fantasy scenario that pits him one on one against the former CFO: Barry endorses him, forcing Chavous and Brazil to acknowledge the futility of their campaigns and throw their support behind him. Evans must be inhaling the fumes of his campaign bus. A Barry endorsement couldn’t even swing a school board race, let alone a heated mayoral contest.
The Barry camp already has sent strong signals to its followers that Williams is acceptable. First Lady Cora Masters MacBarryupstaging her husbandhas been quietly advising Williams’ wife for the past two months and last week had lunch with candidate Williams at Georgia Brown’s, one of her favorite restaurants.
Meanwhile, Evans is positioning himself as the stop-Williams candidate.
“I’m fired up!” Evans told some 100 supporters at Kelly’s Ellis Island restaurant in Ward 5 last Saturday morning. The volunteers had gathered to lunch on pizza provided by the campaign before fanning out across the city to stump for their candidate.
“We’re right where we need to be 30 days out,” the candidate announced to the cheering volunteers. “We’ve got the momentum. We’ve passed up Harold, we’ve passed up Kevin, and we’re right on Anthony Williams’ tail.” Evans hangs that claim on late-July campaign polls showing him and Chavous in the high teens and Williams in the low 30s.
Along with pizza, Evans campaign workers got a hefty seasoning of Williams-bashing. The candidate and other speakers attacked the mayoral front-runner for pushing a gross-receipts tax that Evans claims would hurt minority businesses and send major firms fleeing the city.
Evans’ polling data show that his issues score well with the city’s young professionals. But the Williams campaign seems willing to slug it out with Evans on this one, claiming that major businesses avoid paying D.C. taxes altogether and force commercial and residential property owners to pay unnecessarily high property taxes.
Evans backers also blast Williams as an opportunist who misled Barry three years ago by pledging cooperation to secure his own appointment as CFO, and then used that post to battle Barry and stage his own mayoral bid.
“In my 40 years in politics, he is the most despicable man I’ve ever seen,” Evans supporter Ron Drake told LL. “Four years from now, there will be no man more hated in this city than Anthony Williams.” Drake, of course, didn’t mean to imply that Williams was a sure bet to win the race.
To round out the image of Williams as a pandering, unprincipled politico, Evans has seized on his gyrations concerning same-sex marriage. At a Ward 8 forum two months ago, Williams said he supported gay marriages. Then, at a subsequent forum hosted by city ministers, he pulled off the most hackneyed waffle in the history of politics. He said that while he personally opposes same-sex marriages, he would sign legislation legalizing it.
At a more recent forum hosted by the Gertrude Stein Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, Williams demonstrated a growing sense of comfort with same-sex marriages. This time, he promised to send the council a proposed same-sex marriage bill once he becomes mayor. Responding to charges of flip-flopping from Evans, a steadfast supporter of same-sex marriage, Williams quipped during the July 31 forum: “Let’s cut to the chase: You’re really saying I’m two-faced. Would I pick a face that looked like this?”
In a refrain that he has repeated throughout the summer, Williams attributed his flip-flop to the “continuing education” he is getting on the campaign trail. Despite Evans’ stellar record of supporting gay issues since coming to the council seven years ago, Williams flexed enough political muscle to deny Evans an expected endorsement at the Gertrude Stein forum.
The following week, Williams pulled off an even bigger coup: He blocked a sure endorsement of Evans on his home turf during a forum hosted by Ward 2 Democrats and clobbered the councilmember at a forum in neighboring Ward 1, where Evans finished dead last.
The most persistent charge leveled against Williams by the Evans camp is that he is a carpetbagger who hasn’t been in D.C. long enough to earn the right to run for the city’s top political job.
“My kids have been in D.C. as long as Anthony Williams,” Evans’ wife, Noel Evans, said at last Saturday’s rally, referring to her 21-month-old triplets.
The boast cut Williams’ residency in the city by half. Evans, however, liked the line so much that he used it to close a forum at Shiloh Baptist Church the next afternoon.
One of Evans’ key issues is the burden he carries as a white man trying to win citywide election in a majority-black town. LL can sympathize with his plight.
After all, no other candidate has been willing to talk about the deprivation of growing up white in a comfortable Pennsylvania community where he was not tested by life’s hardshipstests that could have come in handy later on for forging political bonds with the common man. No one else in District politics has ever addressed the agony of settling for an Ivy League education when attending a Southern school would have been politically savvier.
Nor has any other D.C. pol ever acknowledged the heartbreak of white law grads whose only choice is between junior partnerships in major law firms and lucrative jobs with federal agencies.
Evans hopes that many blacks, especially older ones who remember the civil rights era, will relate to the burden he carries and vote for him, even if they are unwilling to let their neighbors know they are Evans supporters.
The candidate and his campaign workers are upbeat about their climb in the mayoral standings. But they are equally apprehensive that an anticipated endorsement of Williams by the Washington Post within the next couple of weeks could turn his surge into a tidal wave.
That tidal wave threatens to bury all of Williams’ rivals, regardless of skin color.
•Diane Williams, wife of candidate Tony, got into a dust-up with Evans council staffer Shanette Grant during the recent Ward 2 Democrats endorsement forum. The source of trouble was Diane Williams’ pleas to persuade the senior citizens Evans had bused in to go home and get some sleep.
The Evans camp viewed her intervention not
as concern for the elderly but as an effort to deprive the candidate of the votes needed to secure the endorsement.
“She was chasing our seniors all evening,” says an Evans aide. “Maybe she’s learning from Cora Barry.”
The first lady has befriended Diane Williams and has been advising her on the rigors of the campaign trail. Mrs. Williams appears to be a quick study.
Williams campaign spokesperson Peggy Armstrong insists that Diane Williams’ motives were purely apolitical.
“She was worried about [the seniors],” Armstrong says with a straight face. “It was late and they were tired. She told them she wouldn’t want her mom to be out that late.” The event didn’t conclude until after midnight.
But Diane Williams’ concern didn’t stop with the elderly; she also tried to dissuade Evans’ young council staffers from hanging around to cast their ballots. Her questions about whether Evans paid his staff enough to warrant such long hours led to the in-your-face confrontation with Grant.
“She was worried about the young staffers’ getting their sleep,” Armstrong insists.
Diane Williams may be the campaign’s secret weapon. When the final tally came around midnight, Evans fell four votes short of winning a needed endorsement on his home turf.
The Ward 2 forum served as the coming-out party for control board Executive Director John Hill. The board’s top staffer raised some eyebrows when he donned a Tony Williams campaign button and actively participated in the forum on the former CFO’s behalf.
Other control board staffers are pledging neutrality or at least keeping their preferences hidden from public view.
•GOP At-Large Councilmember David Catania is winning converts among the city’s Democratic voters. When Catania first ran for office last December, Ward 1 activist and government watchdog Marie Drissel went about like Paul Revere sounding the warning against her conservative neighbor, who backs the death penalty.
But Drissel, impressed by Catania’s aggressiveness, recently donated to his re-election fund. On his latest campaign-finance report, Catania listed her occupation as “D.C. Rottweiler,” a nickname Drissel earned for her dogged pursuit of reform within the D.C. government.
Statehood stalwarts John and Debby Hanrahan made an even bigger conversion, hosting a fundraiser for the candidate who threatens to end the long career At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason. Catania and Mason are among several contenders for two at-large council seats on the ballot this November.
But Catania supports Debby Hanrahan’s pet causestopping construction of the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square.
Councilmember Catania is not as appealing a commodity in Ward 8. During last weekend’s at-large council candidate forum hosted by Ward 8 Democrats, nine Democratic contenders were asked to take the no-Catania pledge and promise not to cast their second vote in November for his re-election.
Voters will be able to cast ballots for two at-large council seats, and only one Democrat will be among the contenders.
Only candidates Phil Mendelson and Bill Rice hedged, praising Catania for his diligent oversight since coming to the council.
Mendelson was the only candidate courageous enough to reveal his mayoral preference: He is backing Chavous.
At the start of the forum, the candidates also were asked to dig into their pockets and donate to Ward 8 Democrats, which all of them did. But organizers insisted that this was not a condition for winning the party’s endorsement.
None of the candidates broke the 60 percent threshold needed to win the organization’s endorsement. CP
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