D.C. COUNCIL DIVIDED ON EXPULSION Lawmakers to meet Tuesday to discuss issue
of D.C. lawmakers want to remove Jack Evans from committees, but not the council, after an inquiry found repeated ethics violations.
A majority of the D.C. Council wants to censure member Jack Evans and strip him of his committee assignments after an investigation found repeated ethics violations, Chairman Phil Mendelson said.
But council members remain divided on whether to impose the toughest punishment: expulsion.
Evans’s colleagues are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss what action, if any, to take after a probe found Evans (D-ward 2) used his public office to assist private consulting clients who paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Evans has declined to attend the meeting and answer questions from colleagues under oath.
Nine of 13 members have already called on Evans to resign, but only three — Elissa Silverman (I-AT Large), David Grosso (I-AT Large) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-AT Large) — say he should be forced from office. Eleven votes are required for expulsion.
Some lawmakers said privately that they are willing to vote to expel but unlikely to take that step without a clear majority in favor, according to several people familiar with discussions. The council has never expelled one of its own.
“There’s the camp that very much thinks we have entered expulsion territory, and there’s a camp that thinks that’s what elections are for,” said one lawmaker
who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “But we can censure, we can punish, we can make it painful.”
In a letter to the council last week, attorneys representing Evans argued against expulsion, noting that Evans is up for reelection next year and faces a potential recall election.
“The Council should not easily or readily disenfranchise the residents of a ward,” wrote Abbe Lowell and Mark Tuohey, who are representing Evans. “That would create a precedent that could easily be expanded and misused against anyone who lets that occur.”
Evans, the city’s longest-serving lawmaker, is trying to halt the recall election on the grounds that the qualifying petition does not have enough valid signatures.
He has not yet filed paperwork to seek another term, although six candidates are lining up to run for the Democratic nomination in the June primary.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-ward 3), who is leading the internal investigation into Evans and has called for him to resign, declined to say what disciplinary measures she supports. But she said she was not persuaded by the argument that only voters should decide Evans’s fate.
“Even if he were expelled, it doesn’t mean he can’t run for office, it doesn’t mean the people can’t rise up and say, ‘No, we really want Jack in that position,’ ” she said. “Their vote is not being impaired.”
The council reprimanded Evans in March and stripped him of his chairmanship of the influential Finance and Revenue Committee in July, after he had become the target of a federal probe and after The Washington Post obtained emails Evans sent on his government account to law firms in which he highlighted his ability to attract private clients as a lawmaker and as chairman of the Metro board.
The council had deadlocked on removing Evans from all committee assignments, with Evans himself casting the deciding vote.
At a Monday news conference, Mendelson (D) said there are enough votes to boot Evans from all council committees. That means Evans would have limited influence on bills as they come up for hearings and first votes but can still cast final votes.
“I have said publicly that I believe the council will at the least censure, and I expect a majority of the council would support removing him from his membership of all committees,” said Mendelson, who declined to share his position.
Council member Anita Bonds (D-AT Large), who opposed removing Evans from all committee assignments during the summer, said she is now inclined to do so and “might” vote to expel but does not think there’s enough support among her colleagues.
“We need to do something that would send a very clear message that this kind of behavior should not be tolerated by any council,” she said.
Council member Charles Allen (D-ward 6) said he is considering expulsion. “There is a very clear pattern and practice of flagrant abuse of our ethics law and we need to take that very seriously,” he said.
Grosso, who was the first to call for Evans to resign, said he would be fine with removing Evans from all committees if lawmakers cannot agree on expulsion.
“Expulsion is a very serious thing, and we have to be careful with it, but I think it’s risen to that level and I would like all my colleagues to be comfortable with that decision,” he said.
But Silverman said the council needs to take a hard line to send a message that businesses cannot try to influence city government by paying elected officials.
“If we give him a slap on the wrist again, that’s saying to moneyed interests, ‘ This is fine. You can get away with this,’ ” she said. “It’s not the way you do business in the Wilson Building, to get money to a legislator. We cannot have that happen here again.”
Council members Brianne K. Nadeau (D-ward 1), Brandon T. Todd (D-ward 4), Kenyan R. Mcduffie (D-ward 5), Vincent C. Gray (D-ward 7) and Trayon White Sr. (D-ward 8) did not comment about Evans on Monday.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-ward 2), center left, has been found to have used his public office to assist private consulting clients who paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars.