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Of all the people who lust after Marion Barry’s job, Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans has surely been the most forthright. He thinks it’s time for a new mayor and readily admits he’s more than happy to be among those considered in 1998.
He’s got a few handicaps: Evans is white in a majority-black city, and other than the anomalous appeal of now-deceased D.C. Council chair Dave Clarke, white candidates have not historically done well citywide. And while Evans tolerates politics well enough, he doesn’t live and breathe it like the man he’d like to replace. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s got a fresh batch of triplets at home, a challenge that probably makes a mayoral candidacy seem manageable by comparison.
But Evans is not to be easily dismissed. On a council full of reputed lightweights, he has done more than his share in getting D.C. back on the road to fiscal responsibility. In November, he scored an overwhelming victory to retain his council seat, outspending a hapless Republican opponent 10 to 1 in order to garner more than 80 percent of the vote. And he outpoliticked veteran Councilmember Harold Brazil for the coveted chair of the Judiciary Committee. It was an upset that earned Evans an excellent platform from which to launch a citywide campaign.
Evans’ political engine is also tuned up and ready to go. The “Jack PAC,” his political action committee, has already raised more than $35,000 in contributions.
Still, at a time when he should be working to expand his base all over the city, the ground is trembling beneath him in Ward 2. After a number of bruising neighborhood battles, former allies have become vociferous critics. Activists in his ward, who have tangled with Evans over a range of issues, will tell you never mind Evans’ hopes and dreams; right now he’s got serious trouble right in his own back yard.
Ward 2 is one of the city’s most diverse: Stretching from Palisades in the west all the way to Shaw in the east, it includes Dupont Circle and parts of downtown and southwest Washington. Over the past six months, Evans has managed to piss off activists in almost every one of the ward’s neighborhoods, and now some of those disparate groups are uniting in their discontent.
“Things are going sour for Jack all over the ward,” says Beth Solomon, who has spent the past year trying to stir up community opposition to Evans’ pet project to build a new convention center east of Logan Circle. “There’s a feeling everywhere that Jack’s finally shown his true colors.”
For all the grief he’s been getting, though, Evans isn’t about to pack up his campaign any time soon. “In a community like Ward 2, where you have such diversity and so many people living in close quarters, you’re going to have differences of opinion,” he says philosophically. In fact, Evans may be guilty of nothing more than offending various members of the city’s chattering political class. The list of people currently throwing rocks at him reads like a who’s who of D.C.’s busybodies. It’s difficult to tell whether the animus of activists translates into real trouble in his ward.
Evans argues that he’s simply bearing the consequences of making hard choices that he believes are in the ward’s long-term interests. But some of his constituents say that in his effort to broaden his appeal as a mayoral candidate, he has done a poor job of looking after the ward he was elected to represent.
“I think we all know Jack Evans is useless,” says Georgetown community activist Westy Byrd. She suggests that Evans has done a backflip on quality-of-life issues in order to please the big-business crowd that funded his campaign.
Evans’ conduct around the Georgetown parking issue is something that sticks in Byrd’s craw. During the council campaign, Evans supported a pilot program to restrict parking on one side of some Georgetown streets to local residents. Then, after the election, he started backing off, saying the city would never be able to come up with the money to replace street signs all over Georgetown. Plus, he reasoned that the program would hurt too many small businesses on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
The Georgetown Residents’ Alliance held a meeting on May 14 to explore the issue, but Evans didn’t show up. Mayor Marion Barry did, and even though he is no more committed to the residents’ position than Evans, he got points for being present.
“[Barry] didn’t specifically commit to the plan,” says Tim Hanan, vice president of the alliance. “He said, ‘Let’s form a task force.’”
Barry’s task force dodge is politics as usual, but the residents seemed satisfied that he at least took enough interest to show his face. “We printed thousands and thousands of leaflets and put them up all over the place. It was only the most important town meeting in his ward that night. [Evans] didn’t even show,” Hanan says.
Evans’ stand on the upscale H.H. Leonards club at 2020 O St. NW produced similar rifts in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Community activist Marilyn Groves says that before the election, Evans led her to believe that he would help kill an upcoming bill that would have effectively allowed the club to continue selling liquor in its residential location. Then, after the election, he let the bill sail through the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs subcommittee. “It doesn’t matter whether we were gullible in believing Jack or whether Jack had a change of heart after the primary,” Groves says. “What matters is that he defied the wishes of every major community group in town on this issue.”
Down in Shaw, Evans’ lobbying for the massive proposed convention center has him at odds with some of that community’s more vocal watchdogs. He makes no bones about his strong support for a plan to build a new 2-million-square-foot convention center on a six-block site north of Mount Vernon Square. It’s a stand that has earned him the enmity of a contingent of Shaw residents who feel sold out in favor of the moneyed players of the hotel and restaurant industries.
Evans’ support for the convention center may also have turned off black voters in the multiracial Shaw community, says Leroy Thorpe, a former Evans ally who now counts himself one of the councilmember’s fiercest opponents.
Last month, Evans dumped Thorpe, who is black, from the Advisory Council of the Washington Convention Center Authority after Thorpe stood up in a meeting and told Carmen Kinsley, the authority’s executive director, that slavery was over and she could knock off the house negro act any time.
Thorpe responded by crashing a community meeting at which Evans was trying to drum up support for the convention center. With a hundred followers in tow, Thorpe heckled Evans from the floor and then brought the meeting to a chaotic close after Evans allegedly said, “Goddammit, Leroy, let me speak!”
“He wouldn’t have spoken that way in Georgetown,” Thorpe now says, warning darkly of an “all-out war” if he and Evans continue to clash. “I have the following in the streets. The people are with me.”
And Thorpe just might have enough support to hurt Evans. “Leroy Thorpe is the most prominent black in Ward 2, and he took Jack around and introduced him to a lot of people,” says Solomon.
When asked about the rift with Thorpe, Evans responds with a towering dose of denial. “Leroy, he’s one of my best supporters,” Evans says.
Evans remains confident that “90 to 95 percent” of Shaw residents support the convention center. For evidence, he points to a June 23 town meeting at which supporters of the center outnumbered and outshouted opponents. “We have the support of the community,” he says.
Opponents in Shaw say Evans is out to lunch in his assessment of support for both the convention center and his leadership. “He just has no good political instincts,” Solomon says. “You get the feeling he wishes all these pesky constituents would just leave him alone.”
The real danger for Evans right now is that all the single-issue whiners will manage to put aside their differences long enough to give him a collective bust in the chops. And as evidenced by his recent bungling of the police redistricting issue, he seems to be creating new pockets of discontent as he goes.
As chair of the Judiciary Committee, Evans has the wherewithal and soapbox to campaign very effectively on the crime issue. But so far, the opportunity has been more of a quagmire. Right now, the biggest item on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda is an ambitious plan to rebuild the Metropolitan Police Department. Over the last four months, a team of private consultants and public officialsincluding Evanshas been under orders from the control board to put police procedures and institutions under a microscope and come up with suggestions.
Last month, the team introduced a plan to redraw the boundaries of the city’s seven police districts and replace the beat network with 83 police service areas (PSAs). Evans scheduled a press conference to unveil the boundaries of the PSAs without vetting the changes with the community first. Oops.
Ward 1 community activist Dorothy Brizill heard about the press conference, made some calls, and found out enough to know that she didn’t like the way the changes were headed. “They would have cut Logan Circle in half arbitrarily, and Dupont Circle too,” she says. “So I made the decision to stop this thing the only way I couldby acting out.”
At a May 19 press conference, Brizill and others got up in Evans’ face and asked why the community hadn’t been consulted before the map was drawn up. Evans backed down and promised to schedule a public hearing before releasing the new PSA map. But the damage was done, and the anti-Evans clique has now expanded beyond Ward 2.
“Why are we always hearing about things that affect our neighborhoods after the fact?” asks Mount Pleasant resident Bonnie Cain. “Does he even understand what we’re saying?”
Evans’ missteps in various neighborhoods have created common ground where none existed before. Cross-town activists Byrd and Thorpea white resident of Georgetown and a black resident of Shawwould probably not have crossed paths were it not for their shared animosity for Evans.
On Memorial Day, Byrd invited Thorpe to a soiree at her house in Georgetown, and it so happened that Evans and his job performance came up in conversationseveral times. Although Byrd downplays the political aspects of what she calls “just a get-together,” she acknowledges that she offered Thorpe her assistance and advice in his fight against the convention center.
The occasion marked the beginning of a continuing relationship between herself and anti-Evans forces in Shaw. “We talk maybe once a month now,” she says. Thorpe says he plans to reciprocate by inviting Byrd over to introduce her to activists in the black community. “Westy, like myself, is a firecracker,” he says. “I felt very relaxed in her home, and I met some new people. In all the years we’ve worked together, Jack never once invited me to his home.”
For all the commotion shadowing Evans right now, he doesn’t seem too worried. And maybe he shouldn’t be. Years of hard-earned political capital are not going to evaporate in the heat of a few community disputes. And the Westy Byrds and Dorothy Brizills of the world are always mad at someone in D.C. government; they will likely move on to someone else in due time.
Jim McGrath, head of the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition, says Evans is not the one-dimensional monster his current opponents are trying to make him out to be. “Sure, I’ve had my differences with him,” says McGrath. “But nobody, no matter how bad they are, does everything wrong. And nobody, no matter how good they are, does everything right.”
Longtime West End community activist Barbara Kahlow thinks Evans has done a fine job standing up for Foggy Bottom residents. “Each neighborhood is different,” she says. “In Georgetown, I understand there are divisions. But everyone loves him in Foggy Bottom.”
Evans doesn’t see a problem in his relationship with the people in Ward 2. “There are 15 neighborhoods in my ward, and I know them like the back of my hand,” he says. “Having been an ANC commissioner, I have a grass-roots understanding on the issues that are important to my constituents.”
The only way for a politician to avoid making enemies in this town, Evans contends, is to avoid making decisions.
“My decisions are based on what’s best for the community as a whole,” he says. As for the proliferation of single-issue activists snapping at his ankles, he says, “Someone had to solve those issues, and that was me.”CP