Patrick Kennedy, who co-chaired the 2016 reelection campaign for D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), said Monday that he will challenge the veteran lawmaker who has been ensnared in an ethics scandal.
Kennedy, a 27-year-old neighborhood commissioner in Foggy Bottom, filed paperwork Monday to establish a campaign committee for the 2020 Democratic primary. He said he would run as a more progressive alternative to Evans and as a fresh face.
Evans, a 65-year-old lawyer first elected in 1991, is the longest-serving D.C. Council member and has not faced a challenger for more than a decade. Now, multiple people are considering running against him, according to political operatives and local activists.
Kennedy served as a co-chair of the lawmaker’s uncontested 2016 reelection bid. He said he had concerns then about Evans’ ethics following controversy over the lawmaker’s use of constituent service funds and political spending but supported his campaign to have an ally on Foggy Bottom neighborhood issues.
“We needed to have a positive relationship that did not descend into personal accusations and petty bickering . . . so I did make a conscious effort to make a better working relationship with Jack,” said Kennedy in a phone interview.
Kennedy said he began rethinking his support for Evans when the website District Dig last year reported about the lawmaker’s ties to a digital sign company, now the subject of a federal investigation.
Kennedy concluded Evans was unfit for office when The Washington Post reported last month that the lawmaker repeatedly solicited business from law firms that lobby the city, offering to help their clients by using the influence and connections he amassed as a lawmaker and as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
“Unfortunately, council member Evans lost the public’s trust, and I say that as someone who has worked with him extensively for many years,” said Kennedy, adding that others approached him to run in late 2018. “I don’t deny his contributions to the District, but I think clearly what has already emerged is disqualifying.”
During a closed-door meeting with the rest of the council on March 13, Evans told fellow lawmakers that he planned to end the consulting business that has made him the target of an expanding federal investigation, according to several people in the room.
But D.C. records show that Evans renewed his registration for NSE Consulting, his home-based consulting business, on March 31. Evans did not immediately return a message asking to explain the filing.
Kennedy said his decision to run against Evans was solidified when he called the council member Monday to give him a heads-up about the primary challenge. According to Kennedy, Evans insisted that his only mistake was using a government email account to solicit private business — not the solicitation itself — and that he would be vindicated and avoid charges once the federal probe ends.
“Regardless of how the grand jury investigation turns out . . . he has clearly fallen short of the standard that elected officials need to hold themselves to to have the public’s trust in a very cynical time,” said Kennedy, who works in management consulting.
Evans, who has previously suggested he would seek reelection, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Kennedy’s campaign finance paperwork lists Kalorama neighborhood commissioner David Bender as his campaign chairman and Foggy Bottom Association President Marina Streznewski as his treasurer.
Kennedy is a Florida native who came to the District to attend George Washington University. Like other transplants, Kennedy said he was initially drawn to national politics but instead gravitated toward local D.C. politics and has served as a neighborhood commissioner since he was a junior in college. He is not a member of the Kennedy political dynasty, unlike fellow Ward 2 neighborhood commissioner William Kennedy Smith.
The Ward 2 district includes Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Dupont Circle and downtown.
For his council run, Kennedy said he plans to rely on public campaign financing and small donors, drawing a contrast with Evans, who has long relied on business and corporate donors.
But Kennedy said his campaign would not just be an onslaught against Evans, and that it would also stress local neighborhood issues and a vision for reducing inequality in a city where the gap between the affluent and the poor has been growing.
“I don’t think Jack and other decision-makers have made the transition to the challenges that come from prosperity: congestion, lack of affordable housing and displacement,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy cited D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), members of the council’s progressive bloc who also have pragmatic streaks, as his role models.
On several closely decided issues, Kennedy said he would have voted differently than Evans. Kennedy supports lowering the voting age to 16, opposed the council’s decision to repeal the Initiative 77 tipped-wage ballot measure passed by voters last year, and opposes issuing a sole-source contract to manage the city's online sports gambling contract.
Kennedy’s candidacy comes after elections officials last week halted an effort to recall Evans from office on technical grounds.
An attorney for Evans questioned whether Adam Eidinger, a local marijuana activist spearheading the recall, was a Ward 2 resident, and elections officials also said that Eidinger and his allies failed to file the proper campaign finance paperwork on time.
Eidinger said he plans to refile the recall paperwork this week with a new person listed as the recall petitioner.
Recall supporters need to collect signatures from 10 percent of Ward 2 voters to trigger a recall election. That would prompt the Board of Elections to hold a special election, and a separate election to choose a replacement if voters oust Evans.
Also last week, the local Democratic Party delayed an effort to pass a resolution urging Evans to resign from party leadership.
Steve Thompson contributed to this report.