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Ward War: 9.09.08
On Saturday afternoon, Cary Silverman approached a Foggy Bottom rowhouse with three bright red Jack Evans campaign signs decorating the lawn. The 32-year-old attorney and challenger for Evans’ Ward 2 City Council seat paused when he saw them.
“A triple is usually where I draw the line,” Silverman said, indicating the three signs. He hung a flyer on the doorknob and walked down the stairs without knocking. “There’s no persuading a triple.”
For the past 17 years, Jack Evans has represented Ward 2—which includes Burleith, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Sheridan Kalorama, Logan Circle, Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and West End—on the D.C. City Council. On Tuesday, he will be up for re-election for the fifth time. If Evans, the Council Vice Chair and Chair of the Finance Revenue Committee, wins and serves out his term, he will be the longest serving councilmember in the District’s history.
This year, Evans faces his most substantial challenger in the Democratic primary since he replaced John A. Wilson in a 1991 special election. Silverman, the President of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association and a former ANC commissioner, has accused Evans of losing touch with neighborhood issues and is running a determined campaign against him.
“As a community activist, I’ve watched [Evans’] attitude change,” Silverman said in an August 28 interview. “His priorities have shifted to baseball stadiums and sports teams from the day-to-day business of being a Councilmember. He’s come to view himself as more than a Councilmember.”
Ward 2 is one of D.C.’s largest and most diverse districts. It is also the second-most affluent; Evans called Ward 2 the city’s “bread basket,” because it accounts for more than 40 percent of the District’s tax revenue. But the Ward also has neighborhoods that suffer from high crime rates, as well as areas that are only now beginning to show signs of economic development.
For all its racial and socioeconomic diversity, though, Ward 2 is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 64 percent of voters registered as Democrats and only 13 percent as Republicans, according to 2008 statistics from the D.C. Board of Elections. Thus, the September 9 Democratic primary will effectively choose Ward 2’s councilmember.
Because the D.C. Council essentially serves as the state legislature for the District, it has much more power than most city councils. Members have to manage their constituents’ quotidian concerns, like broken sidewalks and zoning issues, in addition to attending to broader issues like economic development and public schools. In his time on the Council, Evans has championed major projects like the Nationals Stadium and the Verizon Center.
Silverman maintains that high-profile projects would not be his priority if elected. Instead, he said he would focus on neighborhood issues: ensuring that police officers, firefighters, and teachers can afford housing in the District: and small business protections like property tax caps. Silverman touts his work as a former Logan Circle ANC 2F commissioner and current MVSNA President as positions that taught him to be sensitive to complicated community issues.
Si Kailian, Vice President of the MVSNA, credits Silverman with making their organization more responsive to the community’s demands. Kailian said one of Silverman’s biggest accomplishments as MVSNA’s President was organizing the neighborhood against Fun Fair Video, which illegally showed pornography.
“Fun Fair Video was a place where you could pay a few bucks, go in and watch some really, really bad, cheap porn,” he said. “There were all sorts of illegal operations going along with it, drugs going in and out. The neighborhood had been complaining about it for a while, but it takes a big push to get the community together, to get the city and police to react. Cary definitely led that effort, got the neighbors protesting together.”
But Alex Padro, an ANC 2C commissioner in Shaw, which is adjacent to Mount Vernon Square, said that while Silverman oversaw the end of Fun Fair Video, many others had made progress against the operation before him.
Silverman’s former fellow ANC commissioner Tom Funk remembers Silverman as a devoted and effective ANC commissioner. When vocal Q Street Corridor residents took issue with the construction of a mixed-use building on their block, Funk said that Silverman impressively balanced constituent interests and commercial development.
“There were a lot of situations in which we had to cut the baby in half, and not everybody was going to be happy. But I think [Silverman] brilliantly navigated that,” Funk said.
But Leslie Miles, a former member of the same ANC, remembered Silverman differently, as an ineffectual ANC member. She believes he left Logan Circle because the impression he made on its residents was not one that would allow him to advance to higher office in the area.
“I’m a supporter of Jack Evans in every way,” Miles said. “I’m a financial backer, and I do not see any need to replace him with someone who frankly I see as nebbish.”
Like Silverman, Evans got his start at the neighborhood level, as a community activist, co-founder of the Ward 2 Democrats and a Dupont Circle ANC 2B Commissioner. Since the creation of the D.C. Council in 1975, the Ward 2 seat had been held by John A. Wilson. When Wilson was elected Council Chairman in 1991, a hotly contested race to represent Ward 2 followed. With thirteen candidates on the ballot, Evans managed a narrow win over Jim Zais, who had served as Marion Barry’s liason to the Ward for eight years.
Since then, his only major electoral disappointment has been an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1998, when he was trounced by Anthony A. Williams, receiving only 10 percent of votes.
One of Evans’ major bragging points has been his record of financial leadership. When he became Chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee in 1999, D.C. had a BB bond rating, reflecting the city’s financial instability. Now the rating is A+, the highest it has ever been.
“We stand here today as one of the best fiscally managed cities in America,” Evans said in an interview on August 25.“For the first time in history, the District of Columbia has a better tax situation than Maryland … When you look around the region, the District is leading the area, not lagging.”
As the incumbent, Evans is often given credit for the revitalization the Ward has seen in recent years. Charles Reed moved to Logan Circle 33 years ago, right after the neighborhood experienced race riots. According to Reed, who is now a Logan Circle ANC 2F Commissioner, the neighborhood was a “derelict, crime ridden place” back then. He said the overall economic improvement of the city has ushered in a “night and day” change, and that now Logan Circle is one of the most desirable places to live in D.C.
“We’ve had the lion’s share of economic development in the ward,” Padro said. “When Jack became a Councilmember, you had more empty lots than office buildings downtown. Now you’ll be hard pressed to find an open parking lot. Jack’s certainly been a champion of development.”
While he agreed that the Ward has developed economically over the past two decades, Silverman argued that economic development was not the same as neighborhood development, and that Evans has neglected one in pursuit of the other.
“We have spent years putting hundreds of thousands of dollars on the District credit card, and that doesn’t seem to concern him,” Silverman said. “We spent $850 million on a new convention center that doesn’t bring any more people into the area than the old one did. They gave $50 million to the Verizon Center for, in part, luxury boxes, and the Council got their own, when we can’t keep recreation centers open. They almost couldn’t keep the libraries open on Fridays.”
Evans’ financial credentials were also called into question by some after last year’s tax fraud scandal, in which employees at the Office of Tax and Revenue stole more than $44 million by manipulating the property tax refund system. Don Shannon, a former Citizens Association of Georgetown President and former Georgetown ANC Chairperson, suggested that if Evans’ time was not split between his law practice and the D.C. City Council, his committee might have stopped the scandal in its midst.
“Somebody should have been watching the store a little more closely,” Shannon said.
Indeed, one of Silverman’s most frequent criticisms of Evans is that he is not a “full-time Councilmember,” imposing both time constraints and conflicts of interest. Evans is employed as an attorney by the D.C. law firm Patton Boggs; in addition to his annual $93,000 Councilmember salary, Evans also makes $240,000 a year at Patton Boggs.
“The core issue is, we have no idea what he does at Patton Boggs. His website says he’s in real estate. We don’t know what that means for D.C.’s interests,” Silverman said.
Evans maintains that his work at Patton Boggs does not constitute a conflict of interest and leaves him enough time to take care of his Council duties. His standard response to the charge is that he’s a full-time Councilmember and a full-time father to his eleven-year-old triplets (his wife died in 2003 of breast cancer) and that many other Councilmembers have outside jobs.
Evans’ campaign has also shot back with the claim that Silverman’s position as an attorney at Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., a firm known for lobbying for conservative causes like tort reform and the relaxation of gun laws, calls his Democratic credentials into question.
“He’s pretending to be a Democrat,” Evans’ campaign manager Keith Carbone said.
Silverman responded that he is not running on issues related to his work for the firm and that he has always been a Democrat. The first time he set foot in D.C., he said, was to intern with Senator Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) office.
And some Ward 2 residents feel that so long as Evans has the time to take care of constituent services, his outside job isn’t a problem.
“I don’t have any problem with Jack working a second job,” Padro said. “In eight years it hasn’t come up … Every time I’ve gone to Jack Evans with issues I haven’t been able to resolve [he has] always successfully intervened.”
Evans has made constituent services—picking up trash, cleaning parks, fixing the sidewalks—one of the centerpieces of his campaign. According to Bryan Randolph, the campaign’s field director, Evans’ office has a reputation for its effective constituent services and has even received requests from Ward 4 and 8 residents for constituent services.
As the election approaches, the Evans campaign is paying special attention to constituent issues. Volunteers who canvass door-to-door carry blank note cards for residents to write down service requests. At a meet-and-greet near Logan Circle, a couple vented their frustration about the Department of Motor Vehicles not allowing them to park near their apartment building. Evans commiserated with them—“Sometimes the government just doesn’t work. But we’re trying to make it work better”—and said he would look into the issue. In the elevator leaving the event, one of his campaign staffers reminded Evans to make sure to resolve the issue before election day.
But some community members dispute the strength of his office’s responses. Thomas Pursley, former president of the Dent Place Citizens Association, said that he encountered problems with Evans’ office when he attempted to have four defective fire hydrants near his house repaired. Pursley said that Evans’ office did not respond to a phone message he left in April, and he eventually contacted the mayor’s office. According to Pursley, the hydrants were replaced by the mayor’s office within two days.
As a former Georgetown resident, Silverman said that he has a feel for the neighborhood’s needs, and that transportation remains a big issue that the Council has failed to adequately address.
“I’ve actually walked to my house in Dupont rather than wait for the G2,” Silverman said, charging the bus system with being confusing and unreliable. Silverman said the Council should explore the expansion of free shuttles, and even Metro rail, into Georgetown.
University President John DeGioia, who is also a resident of Ward 2, would not formally endorse either candidate, nor would he disclose who will get his vote on Tuesday. But in an interview last week, he said that he has been extremely pleased with Evans during the 17 years they have worked together.
“In Ward 2, we have worked very closely with Councilman Evans over the course of his career, and there are few men for whom I have higher regard. [Jack’s] been an extraordinary colleague to us,” DeGioia said.
In addition to having longstanding relationships with community bigshots, Evans also has a significant advantage in terms of name recognition and prestige. This past week he took time off from campaigning to perform his duties as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He can also boast about his close relationship with popular Mayor Adrian Fenty. (“The mayor and I text message all the time,” he said.) He has won every major endorsement in the race, including Fenty’s, The Washington Post, the Ward 2 Democrats, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, and the DC Chamber of Commerce; Silverman has been endorsed mainly by individual community activists and ANC commissioners.
Jack Evans has greeted the chance to run a serious campaign enthusiastically; according to Carbone, the Evans campaign began in January and since February they have had fundraisers or meet-and-greets nearly every night of the week.
“This is the first time we’ve actually had to run a campaign in seventeen years,” Bryan Randolph, the field director for Evans’ campaign, said. “It’s given us a chance to reconnect with people we haven’t seen in a while.”
The fundraising gap between the two campaigns is a large one: Silverman said that his campaign took in about $42,000 as of last week, all of which he expects to use. Evans has raised $605,323.51.
“I know how to do it, I’m good at fundraising,” Evans said. During the Voice’s interview with him, two supporters stepped into the room to hand him checks.
Adam Lovell, Silverman’s field manager and a sophomore at George Washington University, admits that the way Silverman runs his campaign is in part dictated by his campaign’s limited funds. According to Silverman, his campaign staff consists of just 100 people, all volunteers. The Evans campaign has a volunteer list of more than 200, as well as three paid campaign staffers and 15 paid canvassers.
But Silverman is doing his best to remain unperturbed by the disparity in campaign resources.
“It actually doesn’t cost that much to go out and meet voters. There are basic things that do cost a lot—flyers, mailings—but beyond that, it doesn’t cost a lot to run a grassroots campaign,” he said.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to find many people who believe Silverman has a serious shot at dethroning Evans.
“I really don’t believe that Cary has an iceberg’s chance in hell of even having a significant showing in the primary,” Padro said.
Silverman remains optimistic.
“We’re coming in with a fresh look and a ‘we’re going to get it done attitude,’” Silverman said. “Coming up against a seventeen year incumbent is no easy task, but… I think we’ll win on September 9th.”