“He has betrayed each and every one of us,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who is leading the internal investigation of Evans. “You would speak to him about council things, but he was speaking for the people who were buying him.”
Evans (D-Ward 2) was at the Wilson Building but did not attend the meeting. He had no immediate comment, a spokesman said. After the vote, his office was dark and his car was gone.
A person who spoke to Evans on Tuesday afternoon said the lawmaker recognized his council tenure was over and was concerned about being the first member to be expelled but was not yet prepared to resign.
“He recognized this is the vote and it’s not going to change, and so now he has to make his decision,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The person described Evans’s tone as “businesslike.”
Evans has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
“The Council should not easily or readily disenfranchise the residents of a ward,” wrote Abbe Lowell and Mark Tuohey, who are representing Evans. “That would create a precedent that could easily be expanded and misused against anyone who lets that occur.”
The 12-to-0 vote Tuesday marked a seismic shift in city politics that took many by surprise.
When former council members Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame Brown were targets of federal criminal investigations, they resigned their seats in 2012 and were never kicked out by colleagues.
As recently as Monday, just three council members said they supported expulsion, creating the impression that the council would choose a milder punishment, such as censure.
But Cheh asked for a vote on whether to recommend expulsion, and as the roll was called, one member after another spoke of how Evans deceived the public, violated his office and further tarnished the image of a District government that has been struggling to push past a history of corruption.
Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) noted that during a September congressional hearing on D.C. statehood, House Republicans repeatedly invoked Evans as evidence that the city is too corrupt to become the 51st state.
“Our government was belittled in the full view of the nation during one of the most significant steps in our fight for equality, representation and autonomy,” White said. “We have a duty to uphold the integrity of this body and restore the public’s trust.”
Framed that way, it was difficult for members to oppose expulsion, and support for it strengthened like a barrel rolling downhill. Eight activists, each wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a different letter to spell out “SACK JACK,” cheered White.
Evans has been the target of a federal investigation into the nexus between his public office and his private business dealings. FBI agents searched his Georgetown home in June. The Washington Post reported that Evans repeatedly used his government email to solicit business from law firms that had lobbied the city government, offering to use his influence and connections to help their clients.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, for which Evans had served as board chairman, hired an outside law firm to investigate his tenure and this summer determined that Evans had violated that agency’s ethics code. He later stepped down from the board.
Tuesday’s vote was the first step in the process of expulsion, which requires approval by 11 members. It was so novel that the council and staff members spent several minutes poring over the rules to try to figure out what happens next. Officials say the council needs to hold a hearing where Evans would be invited to testify before it can formally vote to remove him. That could happen as early as Dec. 17, but may take longer.
Tuesday was a dramatic turning point for the council, which critics say has been slow to take action against Evans.
The council waited for months to launch an independent investigation of the lawmaker, even as his conflicts of interest were detailed by the media and Metro. Lawmakers reprimanded him in March for using government email to solicit private employment and removed him as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue in July after the Metro probe and FBI search.
But the council didn’t launch its own investigation until July, when it hired a law firm to examine Evans’s activities for the past five years. The results of that probe, released last month, documented at least 11 instances since 2014 in which Evans used his office to help secret clients who paid him upward of $800 an hour for a total of about $400,000.
Evans adamantly refused entreaties from nine council members to resign in the wake of the report.
And he still had powerful defenders in D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7). Mendelson said in July that stripping Evans of his committee assignments would “emasculate” him.
Mendelson appeared taken aback Tuesday by the cascading calls for expulsion and said he wasn’t expecting a vote. He later said he worried about creating a bad precedent.
“It is a sad day when legislators must vote to expel one of their colleagues,” Mendelson said in a prepared statement after the vote. “And it is very sad for Mr. Evans and his family who never wished this. But when it comes to the reputation of the Council, I have to put principle above friendship and partisanship.”
Gray, who has known Evans for decades, initially criticized the calls for his longtime friend to resign. He said it reminded him of the same rush to judgment he experienced in 2012, when the U.S. attorney was investigating irregularities connected to Gray’s successful 2010 campaign for mayor. Seven of Gray’s associates pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges.
Gray resisted calls for his resignation and was never charged. But the episode damaged him politically, and he lost his bid for reelection in 2014 when Bowser beat him in the Democratic primary for mayor.
On Tuesday, Gray said his chief concern was that Evans had ample opportunity to defend himself. Convinced that was true, Gray said expulsion was appropriate.
“This is an action I certainly do not relish being part of, but I wanted to be absolutely sure in the course of this that he had been afforded due process,” Gray said.
Bowser on Tuesday said in a statement that she “stands by” the council but would not say whether she supported expulsion.
“Jack is a colleague of more than 10 years, who made serious mistakes,” said Bowser, who served two terms on the council from 2007 to 2015. “He also contributed a great deal to the resurgence of Washington, D.C. and the great quality of life in Ward 2 for almost 30 years. Throughout this investigation, I have called on the Council to be fair and urgent in their considerations, but to act quickly to regain the public’s trust in the Council as an institution.”
Evans, whose district includes downtown and the neighborhoods of Georgetown and Dupont and Logan circles, has been a stalwart ally of business interests on the council. He credits himself and former mayor Anthony Williams with helping revive the city’s economy and was a major booster behind projects such as Nationals Park.
Evans is up for reelection next year, although he has not filed paperwork to seek another term. In the midst of his troubles, six challengers have declared their intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the Ward 2 seat in 2020. There is also a separate effort to recall Evans; activists submitted petitions last week to force an election. Evans is challenging the validity of the signatures, and a decision is pending.
MaryEva Candon, a lobbyist who organized a letter signed by 20 people to defend Evans, said lawmakers set a bad precedent by trying to force out an elected official.
“It was a real misunderstanding of voting rights,” Candon said in a phone interview. “The voters put him in office, and they should be the ones to vote him out. It’s the council saying they know better, but I know they were motivated by protecting the image of themselves and the council.”
But Zach Weinstein, a local liberal activist who helped launch a group that pushed the council to oust Evans, said the decision was overdue and made possible by pressure from fed-up residents.
“The fact they were finally willing to do something about it gives me hope that this kind of insider dealing in the Wilson Building is unacceptable,” Weinstein said. “The truth won out.”
Steve Thompson contributed to this report.