He instead got boos, hisses and jeers in his first public appearance launching a campaign for the office he resigned from in January before his colleagues could expel him for ethics violations.
Evans grew more terse and frowned as the audience became more hostile and eight campaign opponents criticized him over probes finding that he used his office to benefit companies on his payroll. He promised to not take outside employment if returned to office and to crack down on council perks, such as free sports tickets and special license plates that exempt lawmakers from parking restrictions — all things for which the former lawmaker had come under scrutiny.
“I made mistakes by not putting in place mechanisms to catch conflicts of interests, something I should have known but didn’t,” Evans said, his voice rising. “But we are a forgiving city. Or at least we were.”
For 90 minutes at Foundry United Methodist Church — which Evans has previously attended — he tried to make the case that his accomplishments over 29 years in office outweigh his ethical misdeeds.
Evans name-dropped every school in the downtown and western D.C. ward that was renovated under his watch. He said he “worked tirelessly to resurrect the city” from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1990s. He reminded voters that he spearheaded the effort to secure dedicated funding for the Metro transit agency as board chairman.
Those lines drew no applause. But residents clapped when he acknowledged bringing embarrassment to the council, the city and himself.
Once a political juggernaut who glided to reelection, Evans now faces his toughest campaign since he was first elected to the council in 1991.
Evans resigned in January before his colleagues were scheduled to expel him for repeatedly violating the body’s ethics code. Soon after, he filed to run for his old seat in the June 2 primary and June 16 special election to fill the vacant seat.
His competition includes advisory neighborhood commissioners Patrick Kennedy, Kishan Putta and John Fanning; former city officials Jordan Grossman and Brooke Pinto, and political newcomers Daniel Hernandez and Yilin Zhang. Republican Katherine Venice is also running in the special and general elections.
Grossman, Putta and Kennedy have led in campaign fundraising. Local left-leaning organizations have coalesced behind Grossman, while Kennedy has drawn the most support from local neighborhood commissioners and some of Evans’s former business allies. Pinto made a late entry with the support of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and is the only Democratic candidate who is not using the public financing program.
Every candidate introduced themselves to voters and shared their positions on hot-button issues from bike lanes to decriminalizing sex work.
Evans raised both hands and grinned when candidates were asked to show support for banning outside employment for council members.
All of Evans’s rivals criticized the council’s ability to negate the will of the voters by overturning ballot measures. Evans nodded along and smiled when the moderator asked whether the candidates would support the council overturning the will of the voters by expelling Evans if he were to win office again.
Evans mostly did not respond to the criticism lobbed his way.
At one point, Kennedy said there was no reason to be “vitriolic” against Evans but that it was time for the politician to move on.
“Jack, I’ll ask you the same question I did a month ago: I just don’t know why you are doing this,” Kennedy told Evans, drawing applause.
Evans fired back several minutes later.
“I told you at the time I can represent this ward better than anybody,” said Evans, accusing Kennedy — who chaired his 2016 campaign — of once coming to his office for help landing a job at Metro. “You want to get in a back-and-forth, I’m very happy to do that.”
Evans has kept a low profile in the first month of his campaign while he and allies worked to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot, as well as enough small donations to qualify for the public campaign funds. Former constituents confronted Evans and his signature collectors, while some former allies declined to help resuscitate his political career.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), a former ally of Evans who denounced his decision to run, was among those in the audience and said the hostile reception did not surprise him.
“A lot of folks resent that the contrition is taking the form of turning right around and saying, ‘I want my seat back,’ ” Mendelson said.
As Evans walked down the aisle of the church, he grinned and told a reporter he thought the night “went great.”
In the next pew, a Statehood Green Party activist told him he shouldn’t be running again.
Diane Quinn, another resident, told Evans she respected the knowledge he had about the city as he reached the doors of the church.
“I’m sorry he got himself in the mess he did,” said Quinn, who is undecided. “But he deserves respect for showing his face here.”