Like most good stories, the tale of how Jack Evans came to D.C. involves a girl. The son of a florist and a teacher, he’d grown up in Nanticoke, Pa. With degrees from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he landed a Beltway job with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. On a date, a woman mocked his choice of residence: “Shirlington—that’s suburban death.”
“I said, ‘I’ll never get a date if I live in suburban death,’” Evans says. So he bought a condo in Dupont Circle. Before long, he was involved in local politics. He helped found the Ward 2 Democrats and served as treasurer on the Democratic State Committee. After serving as an ANC commissioner, Evans ran in a special election for the council in 1991. Running on a platform of trimming city government, Evans won by only 400 votes, beating Jim Zais, a former Marion Barry aide who hoped to be the first openly gay councilmember.
In light of Evans’ current reputation of the champion of development, one aspect of that first race stands out. “We’re not going to accept money from large-scale developers who have dominated the political scene,” Evans told the Post during his campaign. On election night, he said his victory “completed the revolution” that began when Sharon Pratt took over from Barry the year before. “[Voters] thought I was a fresh face. That’s what they really want.”
Twenty years on, Evans doesn’t claim to be either a fresh face or a foe of developers. At his reelection kickoff party Monday, he joked how he’d gone from the candidate of “youth, energy, and change” to “common sense, wisdom, and experience.” In an interview, he complains about being unfairly typecast as big builders’ puppet.
But even supporters say Evans’ views have changed. “I think he’s evolved, is how I would say it,” says Linda Greenan, Evans’ first chief of staff, who currently represents Georgetown University. “He has kind of walked that line of understanding the benefit of development, but with controls.”
And Evans certainly isn’t shy about showing off the benefits brought by development—and by Jack Evans—when we hop into his spotless Sebring for a Ward 2 tour.
First stop: Verizon Center. “Clearly I was the major player in getting the Verizon Center downtown,” Evans says.
We pass the convention center. “You can’t mention the convention center without saying my name,” he adds. (In fact, the building is named for former D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington.)
As we drive, we briefly talk about Evans’ term as Metro Board of Directors chairman in the mid-’90s. “It was working pretty well when I was the chairman,” says Evans, referring to the system’s current troubles. “My contribution was to get the system built and up and running.”
We head into Shaw, where Evans promptly takes credit for a variety of structures, including the beautiful Watha T. Daniel/Shaw branch library. Over the years, Evans has occasionally received flak for allegedly not doting on the ward’s poorest neighborhood, which will soon be redistricted out of Ward 2. Evans says he feels like he’s devoted more time to Shaw than anywhere else.
Next it’s on to Logan Circle. Evans extols his work changing a liquor law, which enabled the opening of the neighborhood-changing P Street Whole Foods. “You have to have a councilmember whose been here, who understands how to change the law, [and] to get the votes to change the law,” he says.
The sites keep coming. There’s the dog park on 17th Street: “We were absolutely responsible for getting that built.” The renovations of the Jewish Community Center: “Majorly responsible.” And the 15th street bike lane: You can thank Jack Evans for that, too.
Then it’s on to Georgetown, where Evans’ house backs up to the Bowie-Sevier mansion, one of D.C.’s most expensive homes. We pass his favorite restaurant, Café Milano. Evans tells me how “run down” Georgetown’s sidewalks and streetscapes were when he was first elected. “It was a mess,” Evans says, until he came along.
Evans knows that he’s not solely responsible for any single project, but says it’s still fair for him to make what I would learn is one of his favorite declarations: “But for me, this wouldn’t have gotten done.”
There aren’t too many people arguing. Colleagues describe Evans as a tenacious, focused, and effective legislator who knows how to find the money and the votes to get developers moving. “He’s just somebody you want to have on your side and you don’t want to have on the other side,” says former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson. “He’s a pro,” says Wells, who’s known as a big-business skeptic and says he was initially wary of Evans.
Besides the business of building big buildings, Evans has carved out a role as the council’s fiscal hawk. During Williams’ first term, Evans put together a super majority to lower income taxes against the wishes of the mayor and the financial control board. “He is the champion we could always count on,” says Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Lang’s members show their love in return. Evans has raised millions in his twenty years in office, much of it via bundled donations from developers and business interests.
For instance, the Post reported that the owners of the city’s biggest road paving company, Fort Myer Construction, were among the biggest financial backers of Evans’ failed mayoral bid, donating $17,000. And in his most recent race Evans has already collected $6,000 from a single real estate firm, via $500 donations from 12 different LLCs.
(Evans’ campaign finance forms are a testament to how easy it is to legally get around the District’s $500 donation limits. Donors use multiple LLCs and family members to boost giving totals.)
Evans’ embrace of the business community doesn’t mean he’s necessarily consistent on fiscal policy. He called himself the “king of earmarks,” and wasn’t shy about shoveling money to pet causes before the council banned the practice. In 2008, Evans helped secure $500,000 for the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a nonprofit that organized the national marathon, paid its CEO $415,278—and staged a fundraiser for, you guessed it, Evans. And though Evans continually speaks out about the growth of social services spending, he says most of his earmarks were for arts groups. “This city has enough money to do that,” he adds.
No one ever said that combining a reputation as a dealmaker and a fiscal hawk was easy.
“There are two people on the city council who make things happen,” Miller says. “One’s Jack and the other’s Marion Barry.”