D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) faces the threat of a recall election as political fallout from an ongoing federal probe into his business dealings continues to grow.
Adam Eidinger, an activist known for leading a successful 2014 ballot measure to decriminalize marijuana in the District, is spearheading an effort to force Evans out of office through a recall election.
Eidinger, a Ward 2 resident who said he plans to file paperwork with the Board of Elections next week, launched a website for the recall campaign on Thursday and began soliciting donations. To force a recall election, he must collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the 52,000 registered voters in Ward 2.
Eidinger says Evans has been a reliable ally on cannabis issues. His group even gave Evans a marijuana joint during a lobby day at city hall.
But he said he can no longer abide Evans after learning that the lawmaker repeatedly used government email and touted his influence and connections as an elected official as he sought work from several law firms that lobby the District’s government.
“He’s smearing the city with shame right now,” said Eidinger. “We really need to just stop tolerating his behavior and end this chapter because it is now tarnishing the city.”
Meanwhile, several groups that have long supported Evans issued rare rebukes this week.
A pro-Evans rally that was supposed to take place outside the John A. Wilson Building ended just as it began because just two people showed up: organizer Kathy Henderson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner from Northeast Washington, and Leroy Thorpe, a longtime resident of the Shaw neighborhood.
Henderson said she organized the ill-fated rally to defend Evans because he’s been a valuable voice on the council and because she believes the rules surrounding outside employment for lawmakers are unclear.
“Longevity on the council is a benefit,” Henderson said. “I remember fighting crime, and the city has come a long way, and we need friends on the council like Jack.”
Thorpe said, “Jack is going to prevail, and I guarantee you all the folks who aren’t here today will be the first ones coming to him when he prevails, trying to kiss the ring.”
Evans is under intense scrutiny as federal investigators are probing the veteran lawmaker’s government work and his private financial dealings. Evans, has withstood other questions about his ethical behavior throughout his 28-year political career, but this is the first time federal prosecutors are looking at his actions.
The D.C. Council and the office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) received subpoenas last week seeking records and information about Evans and a wide circle of businesses and entities.
The council is set to vote to reprimand Evans next week, although some are pushing lawmakers to also strip Evans of key committee assignments.
Evans, who recently suggested he’ll seek reelection in 2020, did not return on Thursday a call to discuss the recall campaign.
It would be unprecedented; no member of the council has ever been recalled. Once the board of elections approves a recall petition, supporters have 180 days to collect the necessary signatures. If the signatures are verified, the board has 114 days to call a special recall election. If Evans is ousted, the board would have another 114 days to call a special election to fill the vacancy.
Eidinger, who estimated a successful recall campaign would cost $30,000, plans to have volunteers knock on doors in Ward 2 to collect signatures. Robin Diener, former president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, is treasurer of the committee, and Statehood Green Party activist Debby Hanrahan is co-chairing the campaign, he said.
“This is about giving voters a clear choice of should this guy stay or should he go,” said Eidinger, who said he would drop his recall effort if it’s clear constituents are standing by Evans. “He is trying to profit off his office in a way that’s just grotesque. . . . If he gets to keep his job, it’s just because he’s a powerful man.”
Regardless of whether the recall succeeds, Evans faces other pressure that could reduce his influence on the 13-member council.
Two prominent LGBT groups this week urged the council to remove Evans as chairman of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee. Evans has been a longtime supporter of gay rights and his district includes the Dupont Circle, once the heart of the city’s gay community.
“In our advocacy, we have always embraced both rights and responsibilities; we can do no less now, saddened though we are by this state of affairs involving an old friend and champion,” said Bobbi Strang, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBT group and ally cited by Evans in one of his business proposals, also passed resolutions Monday night urging Evans to step down from Democratic Party leadership and as the committee chairman.
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association and the Foggy Bottom Citizens Association, civic groups at the center of Ward 2, on Thursday urged the council to launch an internal investigation of Evans and to strip him of his committee chairmanship.
Bowser, who has been close to Evans, on Thursday defended the lawmaker over calls for his punishment.
“Allegations of misconduct against elected officials — there is a place in our law, in our system for these to be investigated, and that’s BEGA,” said Bowser in an interview Thursday, referencing the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which suspended its investigation into Evans while the federal probe is ongoing.
“I’m calling for the process to play out,” Bowser said.