Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans had a compelling reason to take aim at the posters affixed to buildings and utility poles from Shaw to Georgetown. Designed by convention center opponents, the posters depict Evans behind a lawnmower reducing the historic Shaw neighborhood and its black residents to mulch—just the sort of imagery that Evans’ 1998 mayoral campaign can do without.
According to Tom Day, a sanitation inspector with the Department of Public Works (DPW), Evans’ office called to complain about the posters, as did some Shaw residents and members of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA). The Shaw locals who are complaining support Evans’ attempts to shoehorn the convention center into a six-block area around Mount Vernon Square, and DCCA protests anything pasted to public property, regardless of message.
Day traced the posters to activists Leroy Thorpe and Beth Solomon, co-founders of the Shaw Coalition against the convention center. Invoking the city’s sanitation code, Day reportedly issued eight $35 citations against Thorpe. But instead of paying up, Thorpe pulled down the posters. “He was out there at 12 midnight and 1 a.m.—in the rain,” says Day. At a DPW hearing earlier this year, an adjudicator dismissed Thorpe’s fines upon examining evidence of his remedial actions.
Once Day finished with Thorpe, he collared Solomon with three fines under the same statute—and says four more are on their way. Like Thorpe, Solomon could sidestep the fines if she removed the few remaining posters. But she’s not dashing for the scraper and rubbing alcohol.
“To me, this is a First Amendment issue,” says Solomon. “Every candidate who has run for office has put posters up on lampposts, and I don’t see DPW threatening them with fines. Jack Evans has put up signs; where are his fines?”
Day insists that any poster on D.C. government property—lampposts, utility boxes, etc.—warrants a fine. The sanitation code carves out an exemption for campaign signs, which must be stapled—not glued—and removed within 30 days after Election Day. “When it comes to issues relating to free speech, there has to be some way for posters to be allowed,” says Marilyn Groves, an activist who helped DPW revise its sanitation code. “It’s something that should be looked at.”
Evans won’t likely spearhead that movement. The existing sanitation code allows him to promote his candidacy while the city snuffs out those who oppose it. Evans’ critics charge that he’s in cahoots with Day and has even appeared with him at community events in Ward 2—a charge that both Day and Evans deny. “We both may have shown up at an ANC meeting or something, but as to coordinating times to appear together? The answer is no,” says Evans.
Despite the best efforts of his detractors, the posters aren’t quite sticking to Evans. Thorpe says the affair is “news to me” and sounds ready to cover up the posters with Evans-for-mayor signs. “When the chips are down,” says Thorpe, who has come under attack for changing his position on the councilmember, “Evans is going to be there for Thorpe, and Thorpe will be there for Evans.”
And Evans reports that supporters have flooded his office with calls—and plaudits—on the posters. “A lot of people who saw them thought they were about my beautification effort for the ward,” says Evans. “I told them to take a closer look.”