Jack Evans launches D.C. mayor run

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post - Council member Jack Evans formally announces that he will challenge Mayor Vincent C. Gray for mayor next year during a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday June 8, 2013.

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Pledging to “establish Washington, D.C., as one of the great cities in the world,” D.C. Council member Jack Evans became the latest entrant in the city’s burgeoning mayoral race Saturday.

Evans, 59, made his morning announcement near Logan Circle on 14th Street NW, a corridor scarred by 1968 riots that in recent years has blossomed with new restaurants, apartments and boutiques.

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“This is the city I want to lead in the future,” he said. “A city that the world looks to, not just because it’s our nation’s capital but because it’s the capital of urban renewal, of revitalization and of a new way forward.”

In remarks Saturday and in an extended interview before the announcement, Evans said his long record as an elected official makes him the best choice to lead the city.

The Georgetown resident and native of Nanticoke, Pa., is the District’s longest-serving lawmaker, having served Ward 2 as a Democrat since winning a 1991 special election. He most recently won reelection last year, running unopposed. The mayoral run is his second; in 1998, he finished a distant third in the Democratic primary, behind winner Anthony A. Williams.

As a legislator, Evans is best known for his leadership of the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, which handles taxing and bonding measures. He has also served as chairman of the Metro board and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Evans took a leading role in securing financing for some of the city government’s highest-profile undertakings, including Nationals Park and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, in addition to numerous smaller projects.

Evans, who came to Washington to work as a regulatory lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission, has also held jobs with law firms while serving as council member — most recently with Patton Boggs. He has generally declined to discuss his work there except in general terms, describing it as practicing securities law.

He has enjoyed good relations with both business and labor groups, but he has had to resist perceptions that his politics have been more attuned to the desires of the downtown business community — mainly hosted in Ward 2 — than to quality of life and other concerns of outlying neighborhoods.

Evans said his efforts — including the establishment of tax increment financing and business improvement districts as well as mid-1990s efforts to support businessman Abe Pollin’s decision to build a downtown arena — were crucial to revitalizing downtown, which in turn laid the groundwork for smaller-scale development in other neighborhoods .

He made his announcement Saturday outside the recently opened Le Diplomate bistro as passers-by jogged and walked dogs.

“The megaprojects are pretty much done,” he said in an earlier interview. “For every convention center, there’s 20 restaurants on 14th Street, all of which I have had a hand in making happen.”

Evans acknowledged one megaproject remains “on my radar screen” — the return of the Washington Redskins to the city. He has hardly been coy about his involvement in quiet efforts to lure the team away from its Prince George’s County stadium.

He said the effort will remain on ice until the team is willing to explore breaking its lease with the county: “If the opportunity comes before 2026 to do it, we’ll certainly seize the moment.”

Otherwise, Evans mentioned only a few specific proposals as he laid out the reason for his run. He said he would establish a “school-to-career pathway” and embraced a controversial proposal to create neighborhood preferences for charter schools, which currently are enrolled by citywide lottery. He also said he has developed a “cohesive strategy” for the District’s efforts to gain statehood.

Three candidates — all D.C. Council members — have now declared their candidacy for next year’s Democratic mayoral primary, currently scheduled for April 1.

Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) was first to enter the race, doing so at a March rally in front of her childhood home in North Michigan Park. Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) launched his campaign last month near H Street NE, another rapidly developing corridor.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has not said whether he will seek reelection.

Unlike Bowser and Wells, Evans has not been a critic of Gray, even though he supported Adrian M. Fenty in the 2010 mayoral race. As a legislator, Evans has long prized maintaining cordial relationships with the city’s mayors.

“I think he’s doing a very good job as mayor,” he said of Gray. “I think he’s addressed a lot of the issues I would be addressing as well. . . . If the mayor decided to run, we can cross that bridge when it happens.”

Evans has not been particularly outspoken on matters of ethics, either. In the interview before his announcement, he did not mention ethics as being a central issue in his mayoral campaign message, even though several corruption scandals have upended many people’s confidence in city government. Instead, he spoke about education, economic development and fiscal management.

Told that Wells has referred to a “crisis of ethics” during his campaign, Evans said he did not agree.

“There’s not a crisis of ethics,” he said. “We’ve had some real, major problems. . . . But I wouldn’t put it in the crisis area. I would say that the laws in place and the actions of the government toward those individuals show the system actually worked.”

On Saturday — a day after federal prosecutors filed a bribery charge against former council member Michael A. Brown — Evans said he would maintain an “uncompromising focus on ethics, on transparent governance and on what we seem to have lost — the simple and singular commitment of our leaders to engage in ethical behavior in all aspects of their public service.”

Evans was also sanguine about the fact that, along with Wells, he is one of two white men seeking to be mayor of a city that has been led exclusively by African Americans since 1975.

“I think I need votes everywhere, and I think I can get votes everywhere,” he said. “What I bring to the table is, people know who I am. I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve paid my dues, so voting for Jack Evans, it’s not just voting for anybody. It’s voting for somebody we know.”

Gloria Hightower, who runs a youth nonprofit and is a longtime Ward 2 resident, said she likes Evans, whom she met as a tenant activist two decades ago, and thinks he’s the “second-smartest politician in the city,” after former mayor and current council member Marion Barry.

But “he has to do more” for low-income black residents, Hightower said after his announcement. “People have to see results now, right now, to help the disenfranchised.”

 
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