“For too long, we in Ward 2 have had to compete for the attention of our council member with paying clients who can afford his price,” candidate Jordan Grossman, 33, told the crowd during his opening statement. “Contrary to the Jack Evans approach, if I’m elected I will be making the decisions based on merit, not based on money from corporations and their lobbyists.”
A few minutes later, candidate Daniel Hernandez also referred to Evans, although not by name, when he said that the Ward 2 seat had long been represented by a council member who said, “ ‘Trust me, I’m doing the right thing.’ ”
“We need to do better,” Hernandez said. “We need to be serious about transparency.”
Evans, the council’s longest-serving member until his resignation, has been a sure bet to represent Ward 2 every election cycle since his 1991 election. But his once reliable supporters have retreated over the past two years as he faced allegations that he used his public office to generate business for his consulting firm, including some clients who came before the council.
In addition to Grossman and Hernandez, the candidates seeking the seat in the June 2 Democratic primary include John Fanning, 56, Patrick Kennedy, 28, and Kishan Putta, 45, all of whom are elected Advisory Neighborhood commissioners.
Grossman, 33, is a former federal worker, while Hernandez, 32, is a former Marine who now works for Microsoft. Another candidate, Yilin Zhang, is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who works in health care.
Evans did not answer his cellphone or respond to a text message seeking comment about his absence from the forum, which was sponsored by the Sierra Club and was devoted to environmental issues such as congestion pricing and the challenges of installing solar panels in historic districts.
While the moderator, Mark Rodeffer, asked no questions about Evans, the candidates sought to differentiate themselves from him, both directly and indirectly.
It was clear, for example, that most of them would chart a new path, at least when it comes to the future of RFK Stadium, to which Evans has hoped the Washington Redskins would return.
Five of the six candidates at the forum said they would oppose relocating the Redskins to a new stadium on the site. Fanning was the only one who said he would support a new stadium, saying, “The Redskins will never win another Super Bowl until they come back to D.C.”
Following the forum, Grossman said that he would continue to raise Evans’s name during the race because of the possibility that — especially in a crowded field — the former council member could win his seat back.
“We need to be very focused on defeating Jack Evans,” Grossman said. “The biggest issue in Ward 2 is that we need a clean break from Jack Evans and the corrupt machine that kept him in power.”
Kennedy, who is a former Evans campaign co-chair, said there are other issues that need to be discussed.
“I don’t know what else there is to say about Jack Evans,” he said after the forum. “The way we make sure he doesn’t come back is by demonstrating that we’re viable alternatives. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about him. Everyone is ready to move on.”
Council Chair Phil Mendelson was among those who attended the forum, saying at its conclusion that he is “concerned” about the council seat’s future and that he “wanted to see the field.”
Asked if he would endorse a candidate, Mendelson said, “I’m not going to say.”
Toward the forum’s conclusion, the moderator asked the candidates to identify their favorite D.C. council member.
No one mentioned Evans.