Phrowdown at the Phillips!
The Phillips Collection auditorium last night hosted what's probably the main event in this year's Ward 2 D.C. Council race, with Democratic incumbent Jack Evans meeting primary challenger Cary Silverman in a 90-minute debate sponsored by the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.
"Debate," however, might be a strong word for what took place. Under the, ahem, firm hand of moderator and Current newspapers publisher Davis Kennedy, Evans and Silverman rarely addressed each other directly and the dialogue was rarely heated. Time limits were strictly enforced by Kennedy, who cut candidates off—usually Evans—with a booming "THANK YOU, MR. EVANS!" Kennedy had a harder time keeping a lid on the crowd, who got raucous at points, and he also could have used a watch: He tried to end the debate a half-hour early before someone informed him there was plenty of time left.
For the most part, over a series on about 25 questions, the differences between the two candidates were minor or predictable. Both support lowering taxes, but Silverman made a big deal about "targeted" tax relief for small business and homeowners. Both hate aggressive panhandling, both think the local ANC should decide whether the sidewalks on 17th Street are brick or concrete, both support a green taxi fleet, and both think that exempting developers from parking requirements are a bad idea (hear that, Layman and GGW?).
This campaign, however, isn't much about the issues, so much as it is that some people don't like Jack Evans.
The old "full-time councilmember" question got the biggest crowd response of the night. Silverman came out strong, noting that Evans makes well over $200,000 yearly at the Patton Boggs law firm and notes "you don't know where it's coming from." OK, well-played, but then he took it farther, opining that there's a possibility that Evans is "getting influence money." That set the pro-Evans portion of the crowd off into a boo-and-hiss fest, making Evans look like the good guy when he countered with his time-tested response to the issue: "I have two full-time jobs: I'm a full-time councilmember and a full-time father to my three children." Awww!
Similarly, Silverman tried to score points on Evans' embrace of big-dollar earmarks over the years, but Evans parried well by saying his earmarks have been directed to arts groups who have a hard time getting District money any other way.
Silverman also had some fact-checking problems. In one of his more effective rhetorical feints, he used a question about declining tax revenues to hammer Evans on ballpark stadium spending, the new convention center, the tax scandal by reciting a litany of high-dollar figures connected in various ways to Evans. But when mentioned the ballpark, he said the $611 million went toward uniforms and lights—nope, the Nats wanted the city to pick up those items but the Nats lost the claim in arbitration. Then, the issue of a human papillomavirus vaccine came up; Silverman didn't seem to be aware that parents could opt-out their children from the vaccination requirement.
Silverman did score big on a question about whether the city should lock the Nationals out of the ballpark if they continue not to pay rent. Evans said, "My first instinct was to do just that." Silverman pointed out that Evans has been the most prominent public defender of the Lerner family and their tactics. "The owners of the team are very strong business people, and they take a very businesslike approach to the whole relationship. They enforce their rights to the extent they can," Evans was quoted saying in the Post.
And, as far as LL is concerned, Silverman has locked up the teacher's-pet vote. Asked to recap his background, Silverman noted he was elected class president and student-body president at SUNY Geneseo (a fact that also gets mentioned on his online law-firm bio). Gee whiz! (That's not that Evans didn't do some bragging of his own, pointing out he graduated from college cum laude.)
And when the subject of the noise bill came up, Silverman, prompted by the text of the question, referred to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who helped draft the bill and claimed it met all possible legal scrutiny. Cheh, of course, is also a constitutional law prof at George Washington University, and Silverman, a GW law grad, hitched his wagon to his former professor: "She knows what she's talking about," Silverman said. "I got an A in her class!"
The biggest moment, however, probably came in the wake of a question about the Heller decision. Both Evans and Silverman decried the ruling, but in a followup question asking whether business owners should be allowed to have guns, Silverman said he liked the idea. That, of course, prompted the Evans campaign to issue a press release within hours, decrying Silverman as "pro-handgun" and a "gun industry lobbyist."
"It is unfortunate that Silverman must learn the difference between representing his lobbying clients in the gun industry and serving the residents of the neighborhoods of ward 2," the release read.
Now LL's initial research indicated no evidence in federal lobbying disclosure reports that Silverman ever lobbied Congress for gun manufacturers directly; his firm, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, however, has long defended gun companies in various lawsuits, but there's no evidence LL could find that Silverman's been involved with any of those. So LL called up Evans campaign manager Keith Carbone, who says the connection is through the American Tort Reform Association, which Carbone says is funded in part by gun manufacturers.
"You ever see the movie Runaway Jury? Cary Silverman is Gene Hackman," Carbone says. Well, not exactly—in the movie, Hackman was engaged in a elaborate jury-tampering effort to defeat a gun tort; Silverman is part of a team lobbying for organization funded by a bunch of corporations looking to cut down on lawsuits, some of which might be gun manufacturers.
Concedes Carbone, "It's not like he's wearing a T-shirt that says Smith & Wesson."
On the Kojo Nnamdi show this afternoon, Silverman said this about the gun-lobbying charges: "I've never done a minute of work for the gun industry...and I don't know where that came from."
Other than the gun blowup, the best exchange came after a question about whether the candidates are following the law that no more than three campaign signs can be posted per side per block. Silverman said he'd been "very careful" to follow the law, pointing out that with his comparatively small war chest, "maybe it's been a little easier for me."
Evans countered with a gotcha, pointing out that Silverman has nine signs at the intersection of 13th and Massachusetts Avenues NW (Evans has three). Evans acknowledged his sign-hangers might have gone overboard and that he's asked them to comply with the law—though, he said, "I'm getting so much help from my opponent taking down signs, I'm not sure it's really necessary."