The Two Sides of Jack Evans
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 1998; Page B1
Jack Evans rocked gently on the dais in his high-backed leather chair, listening with obvious satisfaction as the District's new police chief, Charles H. Ramsey, explained how he planned to rebuild the shambles of the internal affairs unit.
"Clearly," Evans intoned from his perch as co-chairman of a special D.C. Council investigative committee, "the question of who is policing the police is of the greatest importance."
Evans makes prominent mention of his starring role in the high-profile probe of police mismanagement and takes partial credit for hiring Ramsey as he campaigns for the Sept. 15 Democratic primary for mayor. Both accomplishments, he tells voters, bespeak a broader record of public service that defines him as a budget cutter, a consensus builder and a problem solver.
Evans went further in a recent interview, listing what he considers his 10 major accomplishments in office, from chairing the Metro board for two years to building support for the newly built MCI Center and the proposed $650 million convention center.
"I don't know how we've had time to do everything I just listed there, I'll be honest with you," Evans said. "It is an enormous amount of work legislative, community and otherwise that I'm very pleased with. I'm never home."
A wealth of strong opinion about Evans's record, pro and con, emerged during two dozen interviews with civic leaders, community activists and political insiders who have worked closely with the 44-year-old securities lawyer during his seven years as Ward 2's council representative.
All agree that Evans, a partner at the law firm of Baker & Hostetler, has put in his time as a council member, serving five years as the council's representative on the Metro board and the last year and a half as the council's Judiciary Committee chairman. He has reported making $50,000 a year from his law firm for the last six years.
Supporters and critics also agree that Evans's credentials as a fiscal conservative and ardent supporter of business interests are solid he helped lead the charge last year to reduce what employers pay for unemployment insurance, and he helped turn back a $40 million real estate property tax increase in 1995.
As for constituent service, Andy Litsky, chairman of the Ward 2 Democrats, who lives in Southwest Washington, and Helen Kramer, an activist in Logan Circle, both give Evans extremely high marks for responsiveness and direct involvement in critical neighborhood issues.
"He meant business in dealing with various neighborhood associations in going after a problem," added Marcia Rosenthall, who worked with him as head of the Franklin Square Association until she left to run the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District downtown. "And he is pro-business."
But some civic activists say Evans's pro-business slant has increasingly drawn him away from his past as a vigorous neighborhood crusader willing to stand up to developers and commercial interests, and led him to support dubious special-interest proposals.
"Jack has a record of following money, particularly big money," said Westy Byrd, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from Georgetown. "Ever since he decided to run for mayor, he's been worried about a war chest and he's gotten it. He's got half a million dollars, and it came off our backs."
And his stands on a number of important neighborhood and development issues have sparked controversy among community activists across Ward 2, from well-to-do Georgetown, where Evans lives, to the working-class Shaw neighborhood.
"He's been a disappointment for downtown," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, who is supporting Democrat Harold Brazil for mayor. "Whenever a developer needs assistance in diminishing community amenities, he's been there for them."
Solomon, who has clashed with Evans over his support for the proposed convention center, draws a parallel between Evans's disdain for convention center critics and his refusal to listen to critics of Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby, whom he steadfastly backed right up until Soulsby resigned in disgrace.
Evans, Solomon said, likes to "pretend that a problem doesn't exist and [then makes an effort] to discredit anybody who is criticizing the status quo."
Carl Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent and vocal critic of the D.C. police, makes an argument nearly identical to Solomon's about Evans's unwillingness to take critics seriously. Rowan said he was "greeted with ... outrage" by Evans when he appeared before the Judiciary Committee last year and referred to allegations of misconduct by Soulsby.
"They didn't want to look at anything that appeared to be raining on their parade," Rowan said. "It certainly wasn't his finest hour. ... Jack's fatal flaw is, he always wants to believe whoever is sitting in front of him wearing a uniform."
Evans, in an interview, rejected the contention that he has sold out his roots in the community to business in order to finance his mayoral campaign.
"I can think of instances where I've supported businesses, where I've supported the residents, where I've supported the labor unions, for God's sake," Evans said.
He also disputed the contention that his support for Soulsby illustrated a tendency to be swayed by those in power. Evans said that he and the eight other members of an interagency administrative panel overseeing the police "stayed with Soulsby long after, in retrospect, we should have" because crime was dropping and management of the department seemed to be improving.
Soulsby resigned in November after it was revealed that he and an aide, Lt. Jeffery S. Stowe, shared a luxury apartment downtown at cut-rate rent. Stowe ultimately pleaded guilty to wire fraud, theft and extortion for blackmailing married men he observed attending gay nightclubs.
Evans now concedes that the police department "in retrospect" wasn't being well managed by Soulsby. But he added: "People will criticize me for having stuck with Larry Soulsby. They should also credit me for hiring Charles Ramsey."
Evans was elected to the D.C. Council in a 1991 special election after establishing a solid reputation while serving for two years as chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B in Dupont Circle. At the time, Dupont Circle was besieged by commercial developers, and Evans succeeded in forcing the District government to issue rules banning large-scale development in the area north of M Street NW.
During that first council campaign, Evans said, "We're not going to accept money from large-scale developers who have dominated the political scene."
But raising campaign funds, from individuals and businesses including large-scale developers soon became Evans's forte. In 1992, when he ran for his first full term on the council, he raised $160,000 the most ever raised by a ward council member.
Two years later, legislation introduced by Evans reversed a 1992 referendum that limited campaign contributions to a maximum of $100. The reversal, which ultimately took effect in time for this year's mayoral campaign, increased the limit to $2,000.
Evans's fund-raising, in any event, has flourished with the new $2,000 limitation in place. The most recent campaign finance disclosures filed by the candidates showed that he had raised $643,748, almost $200,000 more than anyone else in the race.
"As far as taking money from developers, we've taken money from just about anybody," Evans said, explaining that he does not believe any of the contributions he has accepted would compromise his independence as mayor. "We have raised such a large amount of money," he added, "there is no individual contributor who would have any impact."
Evans kicked off his mayoral campaign at the Kennedy Playground in Shaw, a Ward 2 neighborhood where he's organized an anti-crime task force and worked since 1991 to build support among residents for the proposed convention center in their community at Mount Vernon Square.
Evans's list of his top 10 accomplishments includes organizing the Shaw task force; promoting the convention center and working on three other development projects; setting up an anti-prostitution task force in Logan Circle; working as Metro's board chairman to facilitate construction of MCI Center atop three Metro train lines; sponsoring legislation to reinstate a civilian police review board; supporting the White House legislation to rescue the District from near bankruptcy; and obtaining unanimous zoning approval for the Washington Opera's proposal which since has been abandoned to turn the old Woodward & Lothrop site downtown into an opera house.
"He was a hard worker, he was a sensitive person, he has a vision and he also listens," said Ibrahim Mumin, a longtime Shaw activist who worked on Evans's Shaw Task Force. "And he [attended] all the meetings. [The task force] was a high priority on his list."
In Logan Circle, Helen Kramer, chairwoman of ANC 2F, credited Evans with being "extremely responsive" in setting up the anti-prostitution task force and passing legislation to help police drive prostitutes out of the area laws that haven't done much good, she added, because of lax enforcement by the police and the courts.
"We're very appreciative," she said, "and frustrated, because after all these years, we seem to be back to square one."
Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, was less complimentary.
"He's very good with constituent services," Lynch said. "I think he has been very strong in reaching out to minority communities especially the gay community. But special interests he's been their candidate, and that's reflected so far in the campaign contributions."
To bolster his contention, Lynch pointed to Evans's support for a bill that would have enabled a posh striptease club at 1720 H St. NW to move to a new location one block away and keep its liquor license even though the council passed a moratorium in 1994 prohibiting just that kind of relocation.
Evans responded in an interview that he promptly withdrew his support, effectively killing the bill, after dozens of nearby residents called to complain.
Another controversial special-interest bill supported by Evans enabled The Mansion on O Street, an opulent social club, bed-and-breakfast and antiques bazaar in Dupont Circle, to apply for a permanent liquor license. Some nearby residents say Evans caved in to pressure from powerful supporters of H.H. Leonards, The Mansion's owner. Paul J. Cohn, a Georgetown restaurateur who serves as The Mansion's board chairman, has also been a major Evans supporter.
"There is no conspiracy theory in all of this stuff," Evans said. "These are issues I just have to deal with. You know, I make the best decisions I can at the end of the day, trying to make everybody work it out and sometimes, they won't work it out. Many politicians are criticized for failing to take a stand, for being wishy-washy. One thing you can draw from the comments and criticisms that you're hearing from even my critics is, that's not me."
Evans supports the plan, which now is before the Historic Preservation and Review Board. James Linen, a local advisory neighborhood commissioner, says that 70 percent of the area residents oppose it.
"I think Evans ought to be supporting [his] constituents," Linen said. "Instead, he's done the opposite. Clearly, he cares more about Herb Miller."
Evans responded by calling Linen "a jerk." He said that Miller's plan would improve the neighborhood and that 130 people have signed a petition supporting it.
"It's a no-brainer," Evans said.
If only the same could be said for parking in Georgetown, perhaps the thorniest issue in Washington's poshest quarter.
Don Crockett, a federal government lawyer who helped found the Georgetown Residents Alliance, said Evans first began introducing legislation in 1994 calling for parking on one side of every residential street to be reserved for residents only a plan strongly opposed by Georgetown's business establishment.
But then last year, after Evans decided to run for mayor, Crockett said, "he said he'd changed his mind. He said we'd have to go get the agreement of the business community before he went forward on residential parking."
"He started out as a resident" activist, Crockett said of Evans. "But he's no longer that. He's out in the big leagues, [playing] to the big interests that contribute the big money."
Grace Bateman, a lawyer long active in Georgetown civic affairs, couldn't disagree more. Evans could have easily caved in to Crockett's group, she said, but decided to support the recommendations of a task force appointed by the mayor including installation of 1,500 missing signs to help control commercial parking in residential neighborhoods because they represented the best compromise between residential and business interests.
"He will listen to the merits and make a decision that's good for the city," Bateman said. "Jack has done it time and time again. That's leadership, and that's very much what's needed."
Evans responded that any suggestion that he's been a lackey for Georgetown's establishment is ludicrous. As for parking, Evans said, one-side-of-the-street parking would have been a "draconian" response to the need for more residential parking.
"Without one-side-of-the-street parking," he said, "if we implemented everything else [recommended by the task force], we could create hundreds, if not thousands, of new parking spaces in Georgetown."
A month after Soulsby's resignation in November, Evans and council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) formed the special committee to investigate police corruption and mismanagement and sent out the first subpoenas ever issued in the council's 23-year history. The precipitating event had come several months earlier when two police sergeants told Evans's Judiciary Committee that they'd been ordered to falsify time sheets to protect a superior who had been a member of Barry's security detail and that no one in internal affairs seemed to care.
"As we unpeeled the onion here," Evans told Ramsey from the dais, "I had lost confidence in the ability of the internal affairs division to do anything about this situation."
The special investigative committee, Evans said, "is a model and an example that I hope every other council member builds upon in the future in doing their oversight."
Rowan, an early supporter of Harold Brazil, disagrees. He credits Evans with wanting and trying "to do the right thing" in overseeing the police. But he added: "At the end of the day, if you want to make some change, you've got to hold some people accountable. The irony is that he'll have the target right in his sights, all ready to pull the trigger, and doesn't."
Asked whether critics such as Rowan were seeking to politicize police oversight and make too much of his earlier support for Soulsby, Evans nodded in agreement.
"Without a doubt," Evans said. "This is an election year."
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