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D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine to seek third term, form public corruption division

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D).
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D). (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) said Friday that he will seek a third term in 2022 and launch a public corruption division in his office in response to the scandals surrounding former D.C. Council member Jack Evans.

Racine, widely viewed as one of the strongest potential challengers to two-term Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), filed paperwork Thursday to seek reelection. He told The Washington Post on Friday that he has not ruled out changing his plans and running for mayor instead.

But he says he also wants to continue the work he launched as the first elected attorney general of the nation’s capital, where he has gone after landlords and employers stealing local wages and filed high-profile national lawsuits against Facebook, the Catholic Church and President Trump.

“Those national aspects of our work, in addition to continuing to stand up strong against the hate coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania, is yet another reason I feel doubly committed to the Office of Attorney General and using the law to protect our values and vulnerable people,” he said in an interview.

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Bowser has not said whether she would seek a third term. A recent poll by The Post found that she enjoys broad approval ratings, with a slight majority of respondents saying they would support a third term. Bowser hinted at running for office again at a January event with city employees, telling attendees to “wait for the next seven years” with a broad grin.

Racine said there are some scenarios in which he believes he could serve the city best as mayor. Several members of the D.C. Council are believed to be weighing runs for higher office.

“I am very deeply concerned that the District of Columbia is moving in a direction where it’s intentionally leaving vulnerable residents behind,” Racine said, referring to the gentrification, displacement and wealth disparities that have overtaken broad swaths of the city. “I am very much against that course of action, and it would be issues like that that would cause me to reflect on whether other office would allow the ability to impact that issue and others.”

Racine considered challenging Bowser in 2018 but opted not to, paving the way for Bowser to easily win reelection with no credible opponents.

Racine’s office does not have the power to prosecute felonies, but he has used his powers to enforce consumer protection laws and to promote anti-violence efforts.

He said a new public corruption division set to be launched in the coming weeks would be able to bring false claim actions and prosecute misdemeanor charges against politicians and those trying to illegally influence them. Felony cases would still be brought by federal prosecutors.

Racine cited the case involving Evans, who resigned from his Ward 2 seat in January after investigations found ethics violations. Evans was under federal investigation but has not been charged.

The probes of Evans first focused on whether he improperly proposed legislation to help Digi Outdoor Media in its quest to install digital advertising signs across downtown Washington. Evans had received stock and consulting fees from the company before proposing the legislation, but said he returned both.

Racine’s office recently prevailed in litigation against the sign venture.

“It became clear as a result of our work in Digi that former council member Jack Evans was corrupt,” said Racine. “I think that our public corruption section that we are launching will show the city that circumstances like Digi, sadly, are just the tip of the iceberg. We want to be part of the change that is necessary in what I think is a pay-to-play culture.”

Racine’s office has become something of a launchpad for aspiring politicians. Two of his former employees have been elected to the council and are running for a second term this year: Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).

Another three people from his office are seeking council seats: Veda Rasheed in Ward 7, Brooke Pinto in Ward 2 and Janeese Lewis George in Ward 4. Racine has endorsed Pinto in the Ward 2 race; her competitors include Evans, who is seeking to regain the seat. Evans could not be reached for comment.

Racine also said he would consider working for a Democratic presidential administration, if the Democratic nominee wins in November, or returning to the private sector. He endorsed Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) for president last year and told Politico he would consider serving as her attorney general.

Harris dropped out before voting began in the primaries.

During a Friday interview on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU (88.5 FM), Racine said he is backing former vice president Joe Biden.

He also said he’s not ruling out stepping down from his post to join a Democratic presidential administration.

“I’m not foreclosing going into the federal administration if there’s a job that’s an important job that can advance the United States, particularly on issues surrounding immigration,” said Racine, a Haitian immigrant. “I would be very, very interested in that.”

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