Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans is one of the city’s most powerful elected officials, and he’s breaking the law, but you’re not likely to read about it in the printed pages of the Washington Post. That’s ironic because the city’s leading newspaper has relentlessly pursued potential official misconduct. At least among black legislators.
Mayor Vincent Gray, Council Chairman Kwame Brown, At-large Councilmember Michael Brown and Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas – all of whom receive strong African-American support, and are black – have been the subject of numerous Post news articles and editorials that question their fitness for office.
Meanwhile Evans, who represents the downtown business community and wealthy Georgetown residents, largely escapes the Post‘s scrutiny, despite the fact that his potential misconduct may be greater than all of the others put together.
In addition to his $125,000 council salary, Evans earns $190,000 a year from Patton Boggs, the powerhouse lobby firm. While it’s unclear exactly what Evans does for the firm, his company bio used to state, “Mr. Evans advises clients on real estate matters.” But that sentence was removed shortly after my Jan. 2010 Post op-ed, which noted:
“In his capacity as chairman of the influential finance and revenue committee, Mr. Evans plays a pivotal role in many ‘real estate matters,’ involving billions of precious District tax dollars and public property. Examples include the baseball stadium, the convention center and now the convention center hotel. It needs to be asked: Which hat does Mr. Evans wear when he helps put these massive deals together?”
At the one rushed public hearing held on the convention center hotel deal, which provides $272 million in public subsidies to assist Marriott in building an 1,167-room monstrosity, I testified before the Economic Development Committee and Evans’ Finance and Revenue Committee. “Jack Evans is a lobbyist for Patton Boggs,” I said. “[And he conducts] real estate deals, which this is precisely and exactly.”
Sitting beside me at the June 24, 2009 hearing was Dave Mallof, a civic leader and former president of the Federation of Citizens Associations of DC, who said:
“Potential conflicts of interest need to be identified. Mr. Evans, I don’t want to hit it too hard, but it is a fair point, you’re making a lot of money here and it’s in real estate advisory. You need to please just reassure the public that standard conflict of interest checks have been run within Patton Boggs and that you’ve got no conflicts… just to play it safe.”
As both chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee and the relevant ward councilmember, Evans spent years putting the convention center hotel deal together. But two days after being publicly questioned about a potential conflict of interest, Evans suddenly began recusing himself from voting on the issue. More than two years later, Evans has still yet to submit a written explanation for his recusals, as required by law.
In a series of articles at DC Watch, as well as in letters to the Council chairman, former Post reporter John Hanrahan, who has closely followed Evans for years, questioned why the councilmember wasn’t being made to comply with the law and submit a written explanation for his recusals.
Last week, Evans finally responded to Hanrahan, telling the Post‘s Mike DeBonis and City Paper‘s Alan Suderman that, regarding the convention center hotel deal, he had no conflict of interest, nor even the appearance of one. Evans then went further, telling Suderman that Hanrahan was “a f—ing idiot.”
It turns out that Evans’ comments were not only inappropriate, they were also untruthful, as both DeBonis and Suderman noted the next day. Both reporters cited a July 2009 email from Evans addressed to a citizen:
“I recused myself from the recent consideration of the financing legislation for the convention center hotel as my law firm, Patton Boggs, represents ING who are the equity partners in the private financing part of the hotel.”
The email was signed “Jeff,” presumably by the late Jeff Coudriet, Evans’ former staffer.
The councilmember has confirmed that Patton Boggs did indeed represent ING at the time of his recusals, directly contradicting his statement that he recused himself only out of an “abundance of caution.”
After his five separate recusals, Evans then effectively un-recused himself when the convention center hotel deal became ensnarled in a lawsuit. “Behind the scenes, [Evans] is trying to get the parties to resolve their dispute,” the Post reported.
Throughout all of this, Hanrahan and I continued to publish articles at DC Watch documenting Evans’ actions (and Hanrahan also sent personal emails to Post reporters), but there were no follow up stories, despite the fact that the Post itself had editorially raised serious questions about the deal.
Somehow, Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein managed to slam the project without mentioning Evans by name.
“Over the years, I’ve learned to cast a wary eye when government officials want an economic development project more than the private interests chosen to develop it do. Projects grow bigger and more ambitious than they need to be, thereby requiring more subsidies than they deserve, until virtually all of the economic benefits wind up in the hands of private interests. Here in Washington, there is no better example of that than the convention center hotel.”
Evans must have friends in high places at the Post because most of the newspaper’s reporters avoid calling him out on the most serious issues. Pearlstein (albeit without naming Evans), and more recently DeBonis (but online only, not in print), are the exceptions to the rule.
In my 2010 op-ed, the Post edited my title and last sentence to deflect attention away from the newspaper’s unwillingness to report on Evans. I had hoped to conclude with these words: “Of course, if the Post breaks its silence regarding Mr. Evans’ conflicts of interest, the council member would be unlikely to [get elected] or even remain as chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee.”
Councilman Evans Lashes Out at Veteran Reporter, Oct. 28, 2011
Councilmember Evans Represents the 1%, Not the Occupiers In His Ward, Oct. 27, 2011