Officials defend Jack Evans after ethics board investigates ‘sweetheart deal’ with GW

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor
Jack Evans, left, defended himself Friday after a city ethics board started investigating whether he gave away public land to GW for political support. “What Jackson is alleging never happened. It’s honestly absurd,” he said.

Days after a Foggy Bottom leader blew the whistle on a mayoral candidate allegedly giving away public land to GW for political support, other officials are saying the accusation is a lie.

Jackson Carnes, a member of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, told the city’s ethics board 10 days ago that D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans told him he voted to close a public alley worth $2.8 million in exchange for GW’s political backing.

But Evans and another local leader present during that conversation, which took place in the Council’s headquarters at the John A. Wilson Building, are denying the accusation.

Foggy Bottom resident Barbara Kahlow, who the ethics board also contacted, said she was in the meeting with Carnes and Evans and denied the mayoral candidate ever mentioned he needed GW’s support.

The ethics board questioned two other ANC commissioners, who were in a separate meeting with Evans to discuss the alley closing. One, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they never heard Evans link his support for the alley closure to GW’s political support.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Senior Jackson Carnes says he was interviewed by D.C.’s ethics board for his accusation that Jack Evans gave GW a “sweetheart deal” in exchange for political backing.

Evans, who is the longest-serving Council member, has largely stayed above the fray in the city’s rampant political scandals. He did run into controversy in 2005 after he used a political action committee to pay for meals for constituents, and has faced criticism for spending more than $100,000 from his constituent-service fund for sports tickets.

“What Jackson is alleging never happened. It’s honestly absurd,” Evans said in a phone interview Friday. “I’ve only spoken with him two times in my life. I’m telling you I didn’t say it. Maybe he misunderstood.”

A senior at GW, Carnes is endorsing and volunteering for one of Evans’ competitors, Council member Muriel Bowser.

In July, Evans introduced a bill to give away the alley – between H and I streets at the “superdorm” construction site – against the wishes of local representatives.

Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission pushed the city to attach conditions to the closing of the alley, including a stipulation that GW would contribute $700,000 toward a second entrance for the Foggy Bottom metro station.

The Council voted 12-0 to close the alley, with Council member and GW Law School professor Mary Cheh recusing herself from the vote. Chairman Phil Mendelson supported the exclusion of the ANC’s conditions because plans for the second metro entrance are still in their early stages.

“The chairman didn’t want to condition the alley and there wasn’t much more to it,” Evans said.

Carnes, one of three members of the ANC questioned by the board last week, told the Associated Press that Evans wanted to hand GW the alley without demands for reimbursement in exchange for the University’s support of his mayoral bid. Carnes has called the vote a “sweetheart deal.”

Carnes said he did not request an investigation, but the ethics board called him the day after he wrote a letter to a local newspaper, The Northwest Current, about the alley closing.

The Council’s code of conduct bars legislators from using their public office for private gain, and the city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability investigates allegations of wrongdoing and can punish Council members for violations. Media reports or anonymous tips can initiate an investigation, according to the D.C. ethics manual.

“It is a very serious matter,” Carnes said by phone Friday. “He did something he shouldn’t have done.”

Carnes is no stranger to standing alone on city issues. He called for an investigation last spring into Richard Trogisch, the principal of the School Without Walls, after he and parents claimed Trogisch was planning to hire his wife as vice principal once the high school merged with Francis-Stevens Education Campus.

Bernard Demczuk, GW’s director of District relations who also sat in on the meeting, deferred questions to University spokeswoman Candace Smith.

Federal tax law bars GW, a nonprofit institution, from supporting political candidates, and Smith said GW “strictly complies with this law and does not endorse political candidates or make contributions to political candidates.”

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