On a recent afternoon, the District’s longest serving councilmember parks his convertible outside a child-care center and wonders what he’s doing.
“OK, Andrew,” Jack Evans asks his spokesman, Andrew Huff, as the Chrysler Sebring’s roof glides shut. ‘Why are we here?”
They’re here, of course, for the pictures. Martha’s Table, a nonprofit just outside Evans’ ward, is opening a new kitchen area. To know Evans is to know that he loves to get his picture taken. Some 266 smiling Jacks stare out from the walls of his council office. The pictures—of celebrities, presidents, and local political types—are regularly rotated, staffers say, based on who’s coming in to visit. No matter which snapshots get the most prominent display, it is the most impressive vanity wall in city politics.
Since no other boldface names are on hand, today’s pictures likely won’t wind up on the wall. But they might wind up in Evans’ newsletter, helping show the world—or at least the good citizens of Ward 2, which stretches from Georgetown to Shaw—that the councilmember is still out and about.
After posing for a group photo, Evans wants more. He gets down on one knee, grabbing the nearest kids for an impromptu chat with Uncle Jack. Evans rapidly asks their names and ages. The kids look a little nervous. Huff snaps away. “Congratulations,” Evans tells the kids as the transaction ends. “You got a new refrigerator.”
Twenty years in office is more than enough time to learn that photos count. But 20 years on the D.C. Council is also long enough to challenge anyone’s enthusiasm.
And lately, the Evans who appears in local news stories hasn’t been the same happy camper as the Evans who appears in ribbon-cutting pictures.
Earlier this fall, Evans told reporters that this is the worst council he’s ever served on, an unusual breach of protocol. He’s been even more pointed in private, calling Council Chairman Kwame Brown an “idiot.” In meetings with constituents, he trashes various colleagues. His relations with Mayor Vince Gray are cordial, but more distant than his ties to the last two mayors—both of whose bases, unlike Gray’s, overlapped with Evans’ largely white, affluent ward.
“You are in a foul mood today,” Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells wrote in a note he passed to Evans during a recent council breakfast. Evans had just lectured colleagues on their alleged inability to kick long-term recipients off welfare. When Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham spoke up about “the children,” Evans closed his eyes and put his head back in his chair, either annoyed, half-asleep, or both.
“Every day coming over here is not joyful to him,” a colleague says. “He gives off this vibe of being very angry, very grumpy.”
But instead of not taking it anymore, Evans wants another round. Friends say they’ve talked to him about exploring life outside the council, where he might make more money and have fewer headaches. Evans won’t hear of it. “He likes being a big man on campus,” says developer pal Herb Miller, who used to be Evans’ Georgetown neighbor.
And it looks like Evans won’t be leaving campus any time soon. He’s currently running unopposed, since his sole challenger dropped out last week. But Evans still has had a packed fundraising schedule and raised about $300,000, according to his campaign.
It’s a conundrum. Jack Evans seems terribly unhappy in a job he desperately wants to keep. He wants to be a big player in a city government he can’t stand. He curates a public vanity wall featuring snapshots of colleagues he privately disdains.
That tension might help explain Evans’ schizophrenic record, which combines large achievements with noteworthy missteps. The achievements include helping recast the council as a place that wasn’t automatically in favor of bloated government and high taxes. The missteps, though, have tended to involve the unholy confluence of political donations and moneyed interests.
It’s a tension that invites questions about whether four more years of Evans is good for the District. The longest serving councilmember may have established a track record to be proud of during his early years in office, in which budget deficits, not ethics crises, represented the council’s biggest challenge.
But for all of Evans’ unhappiness with the chamber’s much-maligned current leadership, it’s not a track record that suggests he’s the obvious guy to fix the problems of what would be his sixth term.