After 7,596 days on the job, Jack Evans can still get excited about a thing or two. Like when he’s asked whether it’s a good idea to put a Washington Redskins training facility on city-owned land near RFK Stadium.
The veteran D.C. Council member jumps out of his chair in his John A. Wilson Building office, laden with photos, plaques and the other detritus of his two decades in political life, grabs a rolled-up map and unrolls it on a table. The corners of his mouth turn up into a faint grin. He starts pointing and talking, and the grin gets less faint.
The enthusiasm comes out in streams of consciousness: “You need all the parking lots for the stadium. . . . The environmental issues become enormous. . . . You want to build a residential-retail community that feeds right into this.”
This is politics Evans-style — the Ahab-like pursuit of The Deal — and it helps explain why, after 21 years in the job, Evans, 58, is running a seventh time to represent Ward 2.
His is the only name that will appear on the ward’s Democratic primary ballot next month. If he wins on April 3 — as is all but certain — and he secures victory on Nov. 6 — as is all but certain — he will be all but certain to become the longest-serving elected official in city history.
Next Feb. 12, he would overtake Hilda H.M. Mason, who served as an at-large council member from 1977 to 1999.
“He revels in it,” said Mark Plotkin, a political analyst and a longtime friend of Evans’s. “Being a career politician, to him, is not a pejorative. It beats anything else.”
His determination to remain in office stands in contrast to his recent frustration with the body on which he serves. “This is the worst council I’ve ever served on in my 20 years on the council,” he said after a September council meeting that got particularly testy.
Months later, Evans — who often appears exasperated with colleagues who he says lack “gravitas” — is not backing away from that characterization. But neither is he backing away from the council he says is the worst he’s ever served on. Evans said at no point in the past four years did he consider not running for another term.
He is pursuing his reelection with gusto, opponent or not, having raised more than $300,000 and scheduled a full slate of campaign events. His campaign message remains much the same as it always has, focused on fiscal issues, city services and public safety. But he’s had to modify things somewhat to match changing times and a changing ward.
Recent events at city hall — including the resignation and guilty pleas of former colleague Harry Thomas Jr. — mean that Evans has to answer more questions about ethics in government. That’s one subject he is not completely comfortable addressing in this election year, when political challengers in council races are trying hard to appear second to none for ethical purity.
Evans voted in a favor of a recent bill to tighten up city ethics standards and enforcement, but he voted against amendments that might have impeded his prodigious fundraising or prohibited him from holding his $190,000 job at the Patton Boggs law firm, a job whose potential for conflicts of interest has on occasion raised critics’ hackles.
At a recent meet-and-greet in a Dupont Circle home, he was asked what can be done about the recent ethical issues. “It really bums me out, because I really love this city,” the woman said.
Evans replied: “It’s very difficult to legislate honesty in politicians. . . . I think we’ve done as much as we can do legislatively.”
Whether that response would pass muster with ethics-minded voters this election cycle will not be tested. He briefly faced a challenge from Fiona Greig, a 32-year-old consultant who said she would better meet the needs of new residents. But Greig bowed out in November, telling supporters that she “wasn’t ready to mount the kind of campaign it would take to win.”
Ken Archer, a Georgetown technology executive who was among a group of activists who supported Greig, said he had hoped that a strong opponent would help bring attention to issues important to the ward’s new residents, particularly public education and neighborhood development.
The 2010 Census showed Ward 2 to be the fastest-growing of the city’s eight wards, each of which is represented by a council member. Demographic shifts and reworked boundary lines have made today’s Ward 2 significantly denser, younger, more affluent and less African American than two decades ago.
Many of the new residents, Archer said, are hoping to stay in the ward to raise families, rather than moving to suburban school districts. Evans, who sends his children to some of the city’s most exclusive private schools, has never been particularly outspoken on education issues.
But in his Dupont meet-and-greet pitch, he turned his attention to education, and in a subsequent interview, unprompted, he talked about his effort to pressure the D.C. school system into improving particular schools in his ward.
After Greig bowed out, Archer said, he spoke extensively with Evans and now plans to vote for him, praising him for his responsiveness on many concerns. Archer said he’s in “wait-and-see mode” on education issues.
“If you personally count up the number of hours he has spent on bringing the Redskins to D.C., the Redskins have gotten more hours of his time” than schools have, he said. “That needs to change.”
It may not. Evans loves to tout his role in the big projects that have helped to transform the city during his time in office — a convention center, a baseball stadium. Now, with the Redskins looking to upgrade their facilities, Evans appears to have a new white whale.
Besides the marquee projects, Plotkin suggests that Evans might see his legacy in his longevity. Evans certainly has a keen sense of political mortality.
He tells a story about a portrait of John A. Wilson — the only other person who ever served as Ward 2 council member — that hangs in the hall outside his office. Evans won the 1991 special election to replace Wilson, a domineering political personality, after Wilson became the council chairman.
Some years ago, the story goes, Evans watched a passerby look at the photo and wonder who it was.
“The building is named after the guy, you know? People have no idea who he is because he’s been gone a long time,” Evans said. “It shows you how fleeting fame is.”